Des Plaines elementary schools a ray of light amid so-so test results
Amid some tepid news about suburban student achievement on standardized test scores, one Des Plaines school district showed dramatic improvement.
Three other Des Plaines Elementary District 62 schools also saw bigger improvements than any other elementary school in the Northwest suburbs on the 2015-16 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test administered to third- through 10th-graders for the second year this spring.
More than 600 schools in Cook, DuPage, Kane Lake, and McHenry counties surveyed by the Daily Herald show declining proficiency scores.
But the Des Plaines district bucked that trend. Last year, just 24 percent of students at South Elementary met/exceeded standards, below the state average of 33 percent. But this year, 45.7 percent of the school's students accomplished that feat -- the largest percentage-point increase in the Northwest suburbs.
Jan Rashid, District 62 assistant superintendent for instructional service, said the improvements reflect the hard work of the students and changes in the way the administration and teachers focus on students' education, including one change inspired by Chicago Cubs Manager Joe Maddon.
"We are following the Joe Maddon philosophy 'do simple better.' It does seem to be a recipe for success," Rashid said. "We have a real focus on planning for instruction. We try not to make it too complicated."
The second-, third- and fourth-largest percentage-point increases in the meets/exceeds category also were at District 62 schools. Terrace Elementary raised its score from 42.7 to 56.6 percent, Forest Elementary increased from 39.4 to 52.8 percent, and Central Elementary rose from 43.3 to 56.3 percent.
Rashid credited much of the improvement to the district's focus on identifying students who are struggling in a few subjects and making sure they get help.
The third-best level PARCC test-takers can achieve is approaching expectations, which includes students who meet or exceed in some but not all subjects. The same four District 62 elementary schools also saw significant reductions in students who fall into the approaching category, an indication the district's programs are helping.
Among high schools, high-achievers include Maine South High School in Park Ridge where 43.4 percent of students met/exceeded standards and 31.8 percent were approaching expectations, and William Fremd High School in Palatine where 41 percent of students met/exceeded and 27.9 percent were approaching meeting standards.
But the overall leader continues to be John Hersey High School in Arlington Heights, with the highest percentage of students who met, exceeded or were approaching expectations on PARCC. But its lead over other Northwest suburban high schools narrowed considerably. Last year, 73.1 percent of students met/exceeded expectations compared to 46.7 percent this year -- a 26.4 percentage-point drop.
Principal Gordon Sisson said the dip likely is the result of a high number of students refusing to take the exam.
"I don't think the PARCC exam was very enthusiastically received by parents, students or instructors," Sisson said. "It was seen as one more exam for children who are already tested so much."
PARCC will not be administered to high school students this year.