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Grading Stateline School Districts Using Illinois State Data

'Eyewitness News' crunches the numbers and grades every Stateline school district based on Reading, Math, and Science proficiency scores released Thursday morning.
WTVO/WQRF -- In a television commercial for the house hunting website Zillow.com, a soldier and his wife discuss a house they are considering purchasing.  The soldier says, "Did you see the school rating?"  Seeing that it is low, the wife responds, "Oh, you're right," disqualifying the home from consideration.

It's only a commercial, but it does speaks to how important good schools are to the health of a community.  A strong public school district can act as a magnet for growth and development, especially for families with school-aged children.  By contrast, poor performing schools can push families out to neighboring areas where school performance is measurably stronger.

That's one reason why each year, the Illinois Department of Public Instruction issues a scorecard on each and every school in the state.  This year, they'll also add an individualized report card, but unlike the report card students take home to mom and dad, their report card will not contain a grade.

So 'Eyewitness News' crunched the numbers and did our own rankings of every school district in the Stateline based on the data supplied by the state.  A grade is then given to each district using the following criteria.
  • The numbers provided by the state represent the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards.  This is the state's metric for success.  From an analytical standpoint, actual average test scores might be more informative, but that data is not supplied.
  • Our analysis is based on standardized test performance in the 4th, 7th and 11th grades.  These grades were chosen because they are the only ones where students are tested for reading, math and science skills.
  • Scores were reached by averaging the nine scores to achieve an overall score, with the 11th grade scores given greater weight (x2).  This is because high school is the cumulative result of the entire primary secondary education experience.  It is also the gateway to college, post-secondary job training or the workforce, and therefore, performance in high school is a greater indicator of adult success than performance in elementary school.
  • Both Hononegah and Rochelle High Schools have a unique setup where other primary school districts feed students into these secondary school districts.  For the purpose of this analysis, the primary feeder and secondary high school districts were combined.
  • Districts were rated rather than individual schools because district policies are what most impact individual school performance, and our analysis found scores for even large districts tended to fall within a certain range.
  • This is an analysis of educational outcomes, not educational effort.  Studies show districts with higher poverty rates, more minority students, and a greater percentage of students whose first language is not English all can impact standardized testing results for various reasons which may transcend the quality of the instruction.
  • We have attached the raw data done supplied by the state for this analysis so that viewers may review it for themselves, including school-by-school testing scores, and do their own analysis if they choose.

For comparison purposes, the highest rated school district in Illinois using our analysis of state numbers was Naperville, which scored 83.09.  The lowest was East St. Louis at 16.48.

Read on to see the scores and grades based on our analysis of the state-supplied numbers for Stateline area school districts.

Report Card: A

Grade A (75+ percent of students cumulatively meeting or exceeding standards).

Setting high standards means that by definition, some students will not meet them.  In our analysis, however, one district stood apart as being the only in the Stateline where when taken cumulatively, students did meet or exceed state standards 3-out-of-4 times.

Hononegah Secondary and Primary School Districts, Rockton:  75.28

Hononegah is an odd school district in that it is only made up of one high school, and for analysis purposes, we also added in the primary school districts which feed into it.  The numbers are consistent throughout, however, setting this district apart.

Report Card: B

Grade B (65-75 percent of students cumulatively meeting or exceeding standards)

Durand CUSD 322, Durand:  74.43 ... Durand falls just below our 'A' grade threshold, and state scores show it posting significant gains from 2011-2012.  An 'A' grade is likely next year should that trend continue.
Hinckley Big Rock CUSD 429, Hinckley:  74.38
Galena USD 120, Galena:  74.16
Forrestville Valley CUSD 221, Forreston:  72.52
Lena Winslow CUSD 202, Lena:  71.88
Pearl City CUSD 200, Pearl City:  71.77
Pecatonica CUSD 321, Pecatonica:  71.24
Dakota CUSD 201, Dakota:  70.97
Indian Creek CUSD 425, Shabbona:  70.23
Byron CUSD 226.  Byron: 70.19
East Dubuque USD 119, East Dubuque:  70.15
Stockton CUSD 206, Stockton:  70.09
Winnebago CUSD 323. Winnebago:  69.64
Scales Mound CUSD 211, Scales Mound:  69.04
Chadwick-Milledgeville CUSD 399, Milledgeville:  68.28
Meridian CUSD 223, Stillman Valley:  67.10
River Ridge CUSD 210, Hanover:  66.83
Sycamore CUSD 427, Sycamore:  66.26
Ashton-Franklin Center CUSD 275, Ashton:  66.04
Warren CUSD 205, Warren:  65.73
Sandwich CUSD 430, Sandwich:  65.03

Report Card: C

Grade C (55-65 percent of students cumulatively meeting or exceeding standards)

Paw Paw CUSD 271, Paw Paw:  64.34
Eastland CUSD 308, Lanark:  62.98
Polo CUSD 222, Polo:  62.97
Amboy CUSD 272, Amboy:  61.51
Dixon USD 170, Dixon:  61.03
Oregon CUSD 220, Oregon:  60.75
Orangeville CUSD 203, Orangeville:  58.89
Somonauk CUSD 432. Somonauk:  58.64
North Boone CUSD 200. Poplar Grove:  58.28
Belvidere CUSD 100, Belvidere:  56.64
Genoa Kingston CUSD 424, Genoa:  56.58
West Carroll CUSD 314, Savanna:  55:52

Report Card: D

Grade D (45-55 percent of students cumulatively meeting or exceeding standards)

The average score of all districts included in our analysis of Northern Illinois school districts was 63.95.  A 'D' was given to these districts because they fell below that average mark by a statistically significant amount.

Rochelle Primary and Secondary School Districts, Rochelle:  54.24
Harlem UD 122, Machesney Park: 54.20
DeKalb CUSD 428, DeKalb:  54.03
County of Winnebago SD 320, South Beloit:  53.98
Hiawatha CUSD 426, Kirkland:  53.66
Freeport SD 145, Freeport:  49.68

Report Card: F

Grade F (Less than 45 percent of students cumulatively meeting or exceeding standards)

Rockford SD 205, Rockford:  42.64

It could be argued that Rockford schools represent the greatest educational challenge in the Stateline in both the size of the district and the scope of the issues the district confronts.  It educates far more Stateline children than any other school district, nearly 28,000.  It also faces a unique set of problems for the area, including high poverty rates and a legacy of past racial discrimination which could impact learning for generations to come.  Under such circumstances, the question could certainly be raised whether the district deserves an 'F.'

But the scores are the scores.  As much as we may sympathize with the challenges District 205 educators face, test scores are designed to be objective and not subjective criteria.  Rockford's overall score is substantially below the next lowest district.  The state also reports that the district's ISAT performance in both math and reading declined in the 2012-2013 school year (see attachment).

There is some cause for optimism as well.  State figures indicate the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards in 11th grade reading, math and science have all increased over the previous year.  The numbers are low overall ... 42.1%, 35%, and 33.8% respectively ... but they do represent a tangible improvement in performance from the previous year.

An objective analysis of the numbers tells us District 205 is easily the poorest performer in the Stateline when it comes to students meeting or exceeding state standards.  The numbers drop to the lowest levels when Rockford 205 students reach high school, when students meet or exceed state testing standards in reading, math and science exams just 37% of the time.  That makes it the only district in the Stateline to fall below the 40% mark when it comes to that metric.
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