Lake County high schools made strides in the past academic year -- some significantly -- in results from the state's annual standardized test given to juniors.
Officials say that's the result of students taking more rigorous Advanced Placement classes, among other things.
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Prairie State Achievement Exam results are among the plethora of information about student achievement in the 2013 state report card, released today. State education officials said this year's report card is improved, in part, by now including consumer-friendly data such as school awards, special programs and extracurricular activities.
Students in third through sixth grades, eighth grade and junior year in high school were tested last spring, and the results are the basis for the 2013 report card. Subjects included reading, mathematics and science on the Illinois Standardized Achievement Test for the younger pupils and the Prairie State exam for the high school juniors.
Still, because of a continued upward move of the academic bar, the number of schools deemed to be failing to meet state standards surpasses those passing by a 2-1 ratio on this year's report card. That does not mean standardized test results are declining.
In the case of 13 high schools in the Daily Herald's coverage area in Lake County, 12 improved in meeting or exceeding standards and one remained the same compared to the Prairie State composite scores logged last year, even though almost all are not considered passing. The Prairie State test includes the ACT college entrance exam.
Antioch and Lakes
Jim McKay, superintendent of Antioch-Lake Villa Area High School District 117, said he's proud his two campuses made it into the minority considered to be passing by the state. Antioch Community High School and Lakes Community High School in Lake Villa achieved significant upward bumps in the Prairie State composite score.
Antioch moved from 55.2 percent to 70 percent in meeting or exceeding standards, with Lakes going from 66.4 to 75.5. Antioch and Lakes high schools have worked deliberately to focus efforts on reading and disciplined instructional practices, McKay said, along with creating learning environments that are supported by technology.
"Moreover, we have raised our expectations for our students by encouraging all students to take at least one Advanced Placement class before graduating," McKay said. "We are very proud of our collective accomplishment and are further compelled to repeat our success this year."
Warren Township High School
At Gurnee-based Warren Township High School District 121, this year's report card has 68.3 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards on the Prairie State exam, up from 61.7 in 2012. Still, the report card places Warren on the failure side.
Superintendent Mary Perry Bates credited the noticeable Prairie State improvement, in part, to a conversion from literature to a skills-based English curriculum, increased Advanced Placement participation and using a "flipped classroom" model in subjects such as Algebra II Trigonometry.
Bates said that flipped-classroom learning method involves an active transfer of the responsibility and ownership of learning to the students. In part, pupils are expected to watch a teacher's video lecture on key information at home -- repeating as many times as needed -- with more time devoted for discussion about a subject in the classroom.
"The flipped model fosters differentiated or personalized teaching, challenges students to take responsibility for their learning, and allows students to master material at their own pace," Bates said. "The flipped model also encourages teaming among teachers who are teaching the same class, in that teachers share responsibility for preparing the videos, which enhances curricular consistency among and between teachers."
Bates said Warren administrators intend to continue the upward academic trend by staying with the flipped classroom and encouraging the AP enrollment and skills-based curriculum. District 121 also has increased support services for struggling students, which include tutoring opportunities for them during the school day.
Outside the classroom, Warren now has a data warehouse that provides information about students to educators. Bates said the warehouse makes it possible for teachers to have immediate access to student performance data on state and district tests, as well as on department exams and quizzes.
"Although the data sets are not new, the ease of access to the data is enhanced significantly through the data warehouse," Bates said. "Teachers can now use the data to inform their instruction and expand differentiation such that they are able to more efficiently address the unique learning needs of their students.
Grant Community High School
Fox Lake-based Grant Community High School District 124 fell short of making adequate yearly progress as established by the report card, but the Prairie State exam results show a higher level of student achievement nonetheless.
Grant had 61.3 percent of juniors meeting or exceeding standards on the Prairie State composite scores on this year's report card. That's up 9.3 percentage points from last year's 52.
District 124 Superintendent Christine Sefcik said she'd tell parents who inquire that while the high school didn't pass on the state report card, real academic progress has been made. For example, she said, Grant has tripled the number of students taking Advanced Placement exams and will continue to encourage the teenagers to enroll in the most rigorous coursework in which they believe they'll succeed.
Sefcik said Grant's record-high student participation in athletics, clubs and activities is another likely factor in improved academics.
"I definitely think there is a connection between student involvement and academic performance," Sefcik said. "Involved students tend to be successful students. There is much research linking the two. I also think learning the value of teamwork and group responsibility and decision making that occurs in an athletics, performing arts, clubs and activities is extremely important. Those skills transcend into the classroom, where learning is much more hands-on now. Ideally, students learn from the teachers as well as from one other."
Some Lake County high schools that typically clock lofty Prairie State composite scores remained strong for the 2013 report card. Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire came in at 88.6 percent meeting or exceeding standards, ahead of last year's 86.1.
Libertyville High School stayed even at 84 percent. Lake Zurich High School posted a third consecutive year with a Prairie State gain, moving from 75.3 to 77.