Overall improvement in Fox Valley schools

  • Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett is among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth, according to Elgin Area School District U-46 officials. Educators are touting the new growth measure on the 2014 Illinois Report Card as a better way of gauging how much students and schools are improving from year to year.

      Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett is among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth, according to Elgin Area School District U-46 officials. Educators are touting the new growth measure on the 2014 Illinois Report Card as a better way of gauging how much students and schools are improving from year to year. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Sixth-grader Nicole Baker, center, discusses a problem with a classmate at Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett, which is among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth.

      Sixth-grader Nicole Baker, center, discusses a problem with a classmate at Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett, which is among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Sixth-grade teacher Sheila Dillon's math class at Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett is a testament to the school's growth. The school is among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth.

      Sixth-grade teacher Sheila Dillon's math class at Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett is a testament to the school's growth. The school is among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett is among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth.

      Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett is among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

  • At Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett, sixth-grade math students are encouraged to ask questions. Elgin Area School District U-46 touts the school as among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth.

      At Prairieview Elementary School in Bartlett, sixth-grade math students are encouraged to ask questions. Elgin Area School District U-46 touts the school as among the top 2 percent in Illinois in both reading and mathematics growth. Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Posted10/31/2014 5:30 AM

For the second year, Fox Valley school districts saw a mix of modest gains and significant dips in standardized test scores, depending on the school and category, according to the 2014 Illinois Report Card released today.

Yet educators at the two largest school districts say their students are "improving" in the areas of mathematics and reading. The yardstick for the improvements is a new "growth" score assigned to each district based on the progress of individual students and schools from year to year.

 

Judging a school's performance by test scores alone is no longer the primary measure, said Laura Hill, assessment and accountability director for Elgin Area School District U-46.

"A lot of times we use the state as a gauge for our schools. ... 70 percent of elementary schools are at or above the state average in both reading and math growth score," Hill said.

Traditionally, scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, administered to third- through eighth-graders, were given more weight. For the past two years, scores have been affected by higher benchmarks for math and reading proficiency and test questions now being aligned with Common Core State Standards.

The ISAT composite score shows the percentages of students "meeting" or "exceeding" state standards in reading and math. Among Fox Valley school districts, 86 schools fell below the state average of 68.2, and 51 schools scored above, while one school scored at the state average.

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For third-grade reading, Prairie View Grade School in Elgin saw the biggest increase in scores at 18.3 percentage points, while the biggest drop was 25.8 percentage points at Westfield Community School in Algonquin. Prairie View also saw the biggest increase in third-grade math scores, 23.7 percentage points, and the biggest drop was 27.5 percentage points at Lincoln Prairie Elementary School in Lake in the Hills.

ISAT scores for some U-46 third-graders nosedived. Huff Elementary School in Elgin is a prime example with a 16.8-percentage-point drop from the previous year.

Hill explained many U-46 elementary schools have a high percentage of students whose native language is Spanish. "We still have quite a few students who are not proficient on the English side and that assessment is in English," she said.

Even so, Huff's overall reading growth score is 101.8. "It's well above the state average," Hill said. "When you put the whole school together, that (third-grade) drop has not really affected them."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

The growth measure shows U-46 schools overall scoring higher than the state's average growth score for reading (99.4) and math (102.9), though perhaps not improving at the same pace as some of their counterparts.

"Growth is a nice metric for schools, where the 'meets' and 'exceeds' benchmark seems self-defeating," Hill said. "(It) works well for districts that have a lot of non-native English speakers.

"The reason why it's a healthier number is you are looking at where students are starting and getting to that following year. You are wlooking to make sure all students are growing and not sliding back."

Seven of U-46's 40 elementary schools are among the top 25 percent in Illinois based on growth numbers in reading or math. Even a few of the poorest performing schools in U-46 show some improvement in growth scores, Hill said.

With the focus shifting toward student growth and an entirely new state assessment on the horizon, some educators are not too worried about scores dipping.

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test will replace the ISAT and Prairie State Achievement Exam this spring.

"You're going to see scores decline significantly across the board for most districts when we transition to PARCC," said Fred Heid, superintendent of Hampshire-based Community School District 300. "There is a two- to three-year process where people have to acclimate to the new assessment."

A majority of District 300 schools -- 13 out of 21 -- saw a decline in ISAT composite scores, yet the district's PSAE scores show the percentage of students moving from "below standards" to "meeting" and "exceeding" standards is significantly higher than that of the state, Heid said.

While the district's growth score in reading dropped 3.5 points to 100, it is still above the state average. The math growth score also increased 2.2 points, to 102.1.

Heid said because of the demographic diversity within District 300 schools, students' needs vary.

"We have a larger percentage of at-risk students than neighboring districts, and 47 percent of our students can now be classified as minority students," he said. "At the end of the day, we have to do a better job of putting in the supports in place. The only thing that matters is the quality of the teacher in our classroom."

Heid said ultimately teachers need more resources and training. The district also may need to offer courses on reading comprehension and fluency while providing direct interventions to more students, he said.

"Everything begins with literacy," Heid said. "There are no silver bullets. There are no quick fixes. We need to do really well everywhere ... there's no excuses."

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