Fenton's higher-paid teachers face a challenge
Fenton High School ranks at the top in average teacher pay among school districts in DuPage County, but its students' ACT scores rank near the bottom. School officials say it's "unfair and inappropriate" to correlate the two.
They say the ACT, once a standard of achievement in high school, has become just one of countless measures that contribute to a school's reputation of success. And, Superintendent Kathie Pierce said, a school's demographics should be taken into consideration.
According to report card data released last month, students at Fenton averaged 20.4 on the ACT. That ranks the school in the lower tier of high school districts in DuPage County, with only West Chicago's Community High School trailing at 20.1.
Salaries at Fenton average $101,084 while at West Chicago that number is $71,901.
Fenton Director of Curriculum Jill Kingsfield said comparing teacher salaries and ACT scores does not work. The school offers advanced classes that lead to more well-rounded student achievement, she said.
"Any one particular data point, to compare anything, you need to look at the broad picture," she said. "The cumulative offerings, the (advanced placement) offerings, we have 25 sections of AP classes. We are very fortunate we can offer these programs."
Officials say several factors have pushed salaries beyond $100,000 -- meeting criteria for extra pay for professional development, having a more experienced staff and a salary scale commensurate with the high cost of living in DuPage among them.
Kingsfield said factors that push scores down are tough to nail down. Among them though, are the district's high non-English speaking population and that about 45 percent of the student body is from low-income households, she said.
Pierce said the school board considers student improvement more important than the ACT scores.
"Our board holds us accountable for student growth," Pierce said.
Only 41 percent of students met or exceeded federal mandates in reading scores. The numbers were somewhat better in math, with 54 percent meeting or exceeding standards. But that is a long way from the 85 percent success rate the No Child Left Behind Act requires.
"We are not happy with reading scores, but we are trying to look at other similar public high schools," Pierce said.
Among suburban schools with similar demographics, only Wheeling High School scored higher in some report card categories, she said. Unofficial data that tracks college retention levels among students from specific high schools gives Fenton high marks, she added.