Local schools report cards a mixed bag

November 23, 2018 GMT

Eight of 54 schools in Lee, Whiteside and Ogle counties are under-performing, while five are designated exemplary, according to the annual Illinois State Board of Education Report Card.

The 38 remaining are rated commendable, and none received the lowest-performing designation.

A process called Summative Designation is the state’s newest method to measure how well a school is performing. It takes into account not only a school’s performance, but also how well it is serving all of its students. It also relies heavily on a new feature: measuring students’ year-over-year improvement on standardized tests, rather than simply their passing rates.


It then gives the schools one of the four designations – exemplary, commendable, under-performing, and lowest-performing.

Rock Falls and Erie middle schools, Erie Elementary School and AFC High School are ranked among the top 10 percent of 3,888 schools in the state.

The eight under-performing schools are in two of the largest school districts in the Sauk Valley.

All Dixon School District schools, except the high school, were designated under-performing. The rest, all in the Sterling School District, are Challand Middle School and Lincoln and Washington elementary schools.

“The designation is designed to show growth. Our preliminary scores were commendable, so we were shocked by the final designations,” Sterling Superintendent Tad Everett said.

A school is given an under-performing designation when one or more of its student groups perform at the lowest 5 percent of all schools. Groups consist of 20 or more students who fall under a certain ethnic, educational or financial category.

For example, Sterling’s Individualized Education Program students – those who need some form of special education – under-performed at the three schools, prompting the designation.

“Our kids didn’t grow to the level and standard we expect them to. We need to do a better job educating in special education,” Everett said.

“It’s hard for a school district to hear they are under-performing, since the entire building is given the designation,” said Margo Empen, Dixon’s superintendent.

“This gives us a chance to see what works with methods of instruction, and look at where we need to invest resources.”

Dixon’s under-performing special education students also prompted its designation.

Under-performing and lowest-performing schools receive additional funding and support to help better their performance.


“We’re eligible for four $15,000 grants, for professional development, collaborative teaching time, common assessment work and intervention supports to best serve the teachers and students’ needs,” Empen said.

Elementary schools receive their designation as a result of the state-mandated Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test scores.

The test first was required in 2015, and in 2016, the ISBE required high schoolers take the SAT as their benchmark for the evaluation.

The schools will retain their designations for the next 3 years, no matter the change in test scores.

Even school districts with all schools designated commendable recognize the importance of the report.

“It shows taxpayers how underfunded we are,” Oregon schools Superintendent Thomas Mahoney said.

Empen agreed.

“Everyone is trying to do more with less. In the last 10 years, we’ve had to cut 100 employees and a quarter of our teaching positions to budget restraints.”

The designations also give districts a better idea where to invest their resources, in teachers, support services, curriculum, or a little bit of everything.

“Our test scores are not where we want to be compared to the state average,” Mahoney said.

“We’re going to focus on increasing the rigor in our instruction and assessment.”