Two schools in Lincolnshire were among the top performers in Lake County on Illinois' new standardized test.
At Half Day School 83.2 percent of students met or exceeded expectations on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test, which was administered in the 2014-15 school year.
That's far above the state average of 33 percent.
Additionally, 11.8 percent of the Half Day students who took the PARCC exam were considered "approaching" expectations -- a new category for kids who didn't fail but may need additional help.
Half Day wasn't the only Lincolnshire-Prairie View District 103 school at the top of the list for Lake County's elementary and middle schools.
Wright Junior High had the second-highest meets-or-exceeds score, with 80.8 percent of students falling in that range. An estimated 13.9 percent of Wright students approached expectations, too.
Those scores reflect what goes on in the classroom, said Katie Reynolds, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. "Our work cultivates a culture of preparing students for the world they live in today and the one they will work in tomorrow."
In stark contrast, four schools with some of the lowest percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards are in Round Lake Area Unit District 116.
Ellis Elementary in Round Lake Beach had the lowest percentage of the group, 11.7 percent. An estimated 29.5 percent of Ellis students approached expectations, according to the state data.
A new test
Illinois schools administered the first round of PARCC tests this past spring, replacing the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.
Third- through 11th-graders were tested in math and English language arts. High schools administrators choose which grades to test, so not all high schoolers took the exam.
Whereas the ISAT exam aimed to measure what students had learned, the new test seeks to determine if students are ready for the coming school year.
Results are divided into five categories:
• Level 1: students who didn't meet academic expectations.
• Level 2: students who partially met expectations.
• Level 3: students who approached expectations.
• Level 4: students who met expectations.
• Level 5: students who exceeded expectations.
Levels 4 and 5 are considered proficient. Students in Level 3 are considered potentially ready to advance, but they may need extra support. They are not considered failing.
Lincolnshire-Prairie View's Reynolds partially attributed the successes of students at Half Day School and Wright Junior High to curriculum changes made in recent years.
She also praised the ongoing efforts of parents and the wider District 103 community.
"Parents are actively involved in their children's education, supporting the district through volunteer hours and providing support at home," Reynolds said. "All of these factors create a community focused on student success."
Some people have criticized the lengthy testing process as a waste of time, while others have said the test is an unnecessary source of stress for students and teachers. Parent-driven boycotts occurred at some suburban schools, and students at some high schools refused to be tested when the time came.
District 103 officials tried to allay those concerns by proactively communicating with parents about the new test and its differences from its predecessors, Reynolds said.
Teachers and administrators responded personally to concerns, explaining how students would be prepared for the tests and how the district would use the data to shape future decisions, she said.
"When the assessment window came near, there were not a lot of surprises," Reynolds said.
Preparation was key
Similar steps were taken in Kildeer Countryside District 96, where officials started preparing students, teachers and parents for the new Common Core educational standards as soon as they were approved for Illinois in 2010.
The PARCC test is aligned with those standards.
Educators met with parents about the new ways math and English would be taught, prepared public podcasts to help parents assist their kids with homework and personally addressed community anxiety about the standards and the test itself, Superintendent Julie Schmidt said.
That effort paid off.
At Twin Groves, 75.8 percent of students met or exceeded expectations, while 15.2 percent approached them. At Woodlawn Middle, 73.7 percent met or exceeded, and 18.1 percent approached.
And at Ivy Hall Elementary, it was 72 percent meets/exceeds, 19.2 percent approaching expectations.
"We couldn't be more pleased," Schmidt said.
The reaction to the new test scores was very different in Round Lake Area Unit District 116.
At Ellis Elementary School in Round Lake Beach, the percentage of students who met or exceeded expectations was among the lowest in Lake County. Three of the school's sister facilities -- Murphy Elementary School, Round Lake Middle and Magee Middle, joined Ellis at the bottom of the list.
District 116 leaders are investigating why students performed so poorly.
One possible explanation lies in the school curriculum, officials said. Educators didn't align math and English lessons across the district with Common Core standards until the 2013-14 term, later than some other schools.
Technology may have been a factor, too, officials said. The test is generally administered online, but since District 116 isn't as wealthy as some of its neighbors, many students -- especially younger ones -- have limited computer experience, Superintendent Constance Collins said.
Now that the scores are in, Collins said, District 116 officials will break down the individual results and figure out what areas need to be addressed.