Ptacek – Illinois Report Card Doesn’t Paint True Picture of District 117

By Benjamin Cox on October 31, 2019 at 6:26am

The Illinois State Report Card for all of the state’s schools was released today. District 117’s performance on the statewide assessment appears to be below average on just about every criteria. While there are 6 out of 9 schools rated as commendable in the district, Jacksonville High School and Jacksonville Middle School were rated as under-performing. The district’s test scores in Math and Reading are just below statewide averages.

Superintendent Steve Ptacek says the report card’s criteria are a bit misleading to those who don’t understand the components that make up the grading system. “We do look at the report card as it has some indicators of some things where we can improve as well as our strengths. The overall thing that everyone is going to look at is whether schools are listed as ‘commendable’ or ‘under-performing.’ The definitions and marks on how they place schools in those categories really make it challenging to use that as any statement on a school’s performance.”

Ptacek further breaks down some of that confusion: “The lowest performing schools are ones that their overall pass rate is in the bottom 5% of the state’s overall pass rates. Then, under-performing schools are schools in which one of their sub-groups of students performs at that level. The rest of the school can perform extremely high but they are under-performing based upon that one sub-group of students. Then, the highest performing are in the top 5% of overall performance, and every one else is commendable. It really is difficult to make an overall judgment of a school based upon that criteria.”

According to the report card, the district’s graduation rate sits at 68% and gets lower for minority students and those from low incomes. The graduation rate is 18 points lower than the statewide average. Student mobility rates, or students transferring in and out of the district is at 12%, 5 points higher than the state average. Currently, the district is nearly 13 million dollars below state fiscal adequacy rates, standing at 67%. District 117, on average between 9 schools in the district, spends $11,000 on average per student with $5150 going to student instruction.

On student IAR growth achievement, the district is below state average by 5 points in English and Reading and 3 points below average on Math. Chronic absenteeism is up by 6 points from last year to 24%, meaning that a student misses 10% or more of instruction days per year without a valid excuse. 3 year Teacher retention is also 5% behind state average at around 80 percent. Ptacek says that IAR growth based on poverty curve puts District 117 right where it needs to be as far as academics. “One thing we jumped into right away is looking at the scatter plots for both ELA and Mathematics to see where our schools are in comparison to other schools throughout the state. The scatter plot compares their performance based upon several factors. The one I always look at is low income percentage because in 20 years since ‘No Child Left Behind’ came about, there is absolutely a correlation between school’s performance and poverty. Our schools are performing right in the middle of that curve where it should be, so we are performing at an expected level. Of course we want to be performing above that, but the test scores themselves show that we need to strengthen up areas that we know we are weak in and reinforce areas where we have strength.”

Ptacek says that JHS was in the commendable performance category up until a week ago but ISBE came back with new data and changed the ranking before the report was released: “We have a call into ISBE to find out what specific data points put us into ‘under performing.’ You have to drive into the data at that detail. It’s not a statement of the overall performance of the high school. I feel very solid that our families that are having high expectation to get prepared to go on to top universities – that it does exist at the high school. We’ve shown that with many of our former students going off to top-notch universities and doing well. There does exist a sub-group, and I do think at this point and time that it’s our African-American high school performance, that put us into that ‘under performing’ category. Of course there are things in that data that we want to see to find out ways we can improve, but it is not a statement overall of the overall performance of the school.”

The report card is released each year by the Illinois State Board of Education in cooperation with the Illinois Interactive Report Cards Office at Northern Illinois University to work together to implement important updates based on legislative and policy changes, feedback from users, additional data, and ongoing technological improvements in the state’s schools.