Ptacek: State Report Card Not Telling Full Story on JSD117

By Benjamin Cox on November 24, 2023 at 1:58pm

Jacksonville School District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek says some of the data released as a part of the State Board of Education’s annual report card isn’t providing the whole story to the public.

The annual School Report Card showed District 117 as having a 68% graduation rate, well below the state average of 87%. The school had an 87% retention rate. Jacksonville High School remained a targeted school while Lincoln Elementary and Jacksonville Middle School were listed as comprehensive.

Targeted schools are labeled due to one or more student groups is performing at or below the level of the “all students” group in the lowest performing 5 percent of schools. Comprehensive schools are labeled due to the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools in Illinois and any high school with a graduation rate of 67 percent or less.

Ptacek says that report card only offer an initial snapshot and do not really offer the true context of a district, especially in District 117’s case: “The things on the School Report Card really are just that initial triage effect. We did have a number this year that I immediately said that we had to look into it in much more detail and that was our graduation rate. At 68.4%, we knew that it wasn’t an accurate indication of what’s happening in our schools. I presented to the board and broke down last year’s cohort – the students that either graduated or were supposed to graduate in 4 years time from when they were 9th graders to when they were seniors last Spring. We broke down all of the students. We were able to find out that students weren’t coded correctly when they left the district.”

Ptacek says students that left the district to be homeschooled and have now graduated, the district’s Transitional Adult Program (TAP) students, and some students enrolled at Garrison and Lafayette counted against the cohort’s graduation rate.

Ten students on local reports are still at JHS this year, finishing up a fifth year of high school. Ptacek says that’s acceptable: “We just found a lot of places that the numbers count against us. Including, we have a philosophy here in the district that if it’s best for a student to stay for a 5th year [of high school] and get a challenging, real experience than to rush them through in four years – we hold them for that additional year. We have 10 students from last year’s graduating class who are still at JHS and are on track to graduate. A couple of them are graduating this Fall. One of them, I think, graduated over the summer but it was just after the deadline. When you take all of that into consideration, we are getting up near 80% on our graduation rate. Now that’s lower than we want it to be, but now we know what group to look at to see where the lower number for the state is coming from.”

Ptacek says it’s particularly frustrating that the TAP program counts against the district’s achievement because many people move into the district to get students into the program so they can be successful, independent adults.

Ptacek says they are also looking at coding on discipline statistics to ensure that is also being reflected correctly in state reports. He says that he doesn’t see this coding issue with the state being changed by the State Board of Education to reflect in future report cards for districts.