Schools celebrate successes and face challenges with this year's school report cards, as the state prepares to change tests and standards during the next two years.
The school report cards released Wednesday by the state reveal demographics, financial information and test scores for every school and district in the state. The ISAT test is administered to students in grades 3-8, while the PSAE test is combined with the college-entry ACT for high school juniors.
The top-scoring schools in Madison and St. Clair counties include elementary schools in Troy, Edwardsville, Mascoutah and O'Fallon districts, while high schools in Lebanon, O'Fallon and Edwardsville continue to score well.
Meanwhile, elementary schools in East St. Louis, Alton, Madison, Venice, South Roxana, Cahokia and Brooklyn continue to struggle with test scores.
Mascoutah placed two schools in the top five elementary schools in St. Clair County, with 96 percent of students at Scott Elementary meeting or exceeding state standards on the test. Millstadt Consolidated School was second at 95.2, and Mascoutah Middle also ranked in the top five.
Mascoutah Superintendent Craig Fiegel credited a supportive community and a dedicated staff as keys to making the district succeed.
"I think the things that make schools successful include a good partnership with community," Fiegel said.
"Teachers and administrators who work very hard to insure the success of students. I have been very impressed by how hard everyone works and how much the community values education."
Fiegel said Mascoutah, which has a high number of students who are from military families, refuses to let the fact that kids frequently transfer in and out as an excuse.
"A lot of our students come and go," Fiegel said. "But that's not necessarily a bad thing. When they arrive they have a lot of experience to share from the places they've been. Military kids have become accustomed to making that transition so they are adept at it."
Fiegel also said that Scott Air Force Base has a lot of officers who come and go. Officers, by nature, are people who have a lot of training and who value education. So their kids seem to be better prepared for school when they arrive than the average kid, he said.
Triad Superintendent Leigh Lewis likewise credits staff and parents with making learning a priority -- with a healthy dose of applause for the kids doing the work.
"I think the culture that you grow in your district, your businesses and your community makes a huge difference in the classroom for setting high expectations, to make them want to learn and to become independent learners," Lewis said. "Learning is very individualized and we have to recognize that."
Lebanon High School had the highest rating with 75 percent of the students meeting or exceeding state standards.
O'Fallon High School District 203 Superintendent Darcy Benway said it was gratifying, but not a surprise, to learn that O'Fallon was one of the top rated high schools in the metro-east with 74.8 percent meeting or exceeding standards. Edwardsville High School was second with 72.7 percent meeting or exceeding standards.
"It's expected because that's what we work toward every day," Benway said. "It's a collaborative effort between the board, the community, the administration and our students and parents.
"When you are part of the O'Fallon High School culture, you're here to take care of business and to help students learn," Benway said. "When you have a collaborative goal like that, you have a heckuva lot better chance of achieving your goals."
O'Fallon has consistently scored amongst the top five high school districts in the metro-east. Last year it placed a close second to Mascoutah High School. Benway said those consistently good results are especially gratifying in tough financial times that have caused schools to have to cut back on staff and programs.
"It speaks to the character of teachers and administrators," Benway said. "They know that we have to make do with less, but that the exceptions have not wavered."
However, East St. Louis District 189 and Brooklyn District 188 each had two schools place in the bottom five for St. Clair County. The lowest-scoring elementary school was Venice Elementary, with only 39.6 percent meeting or exceeding standards -- a significant drop from last year, when 50 percent passed the test.
East St. Louis Superintendent Arthur Culver could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Statewide, 82 percent of Illinois school districts and 66 percent of schools failed to make adequate yearly progress under No Child Left Behind. Only 11 high schools statewide made adequate yearly progress. Next year, the state intends to change the tests to make it a little more difficult and more aligned to the coming PARCC test, which will replace both the ISAT and the PSAE in 2014 for 23 states.
The percentage of Illinois students classified as low-income has increased from 36.1 percent in 1999 to 49 percent in 2012. Total enrollment statewide dropped by more than 8,000 students. Minority enrollment statewide is now 49 percent, though students classified as limited-English proficient remains at about 9 percent.