Local education officials say they think test scores can be influenced by whether teachers continue learning and whether students live in poverty.
According to the educators, teachers who go back to school get better at their jobs, but if students don’t have enough food to eat, their test scores can suffer.
Freeburg School District 77 had the largest percentage of highly-educated teachers of any school district in the metro-east last year.
Most of the Freeburg teaching staff — 78 percent — had a master’s degree or higher in 2017, according to state data.
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The second-largest percentage was 71 percent at O’Fallon School District 203, followed by 68 percent in Monroe County’s Waterloo School District 5.
Here’s a look at what the data shows and what educators think about how the teaching staff’s level of education affects their students’ performance:
Freeburg 77 includes Freeburg Community High School, and O’Fallon 203 includes O’Fallon Township High School. Waterloo 5 is a unit district that teaches students from pre-K to high school.
The school districts all surpassed 2017 state averages on the assessments their students took. One of the elementary schools in Waterloo was even recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for its test scores last year.
These are the percentages of students who scored high enough to meet the state’s standards for what they should know about science:
▪ O’Fallon: 72 percent
▪ Freeburg: 71 percent
▪ Waterloo: 64 percent
▪ State average: 51 percent
And about math and English:
▪ Waterloo elementary-level: 60 percent
▪ State average elementary-level: 34 percent
▪ Waterloo High: 52 percent
▪ O’Fallon High: 52 percent
▪ Freeburg High: 48 percent
▪ State average high school-level: 39 percent
The teachers in those districts who returned to school for higher degrees learned best practices within the field, such as how to relate to students and how they learn, according to Freeburg 77 Superintendent Greg Frerking and Jim Rosborg, a retired Belleville School District 118 superintendent.
Frerking said efforts at school and at home have contributed to Freeburg students’ success.
“We have very involved parents that I think believe in doing well on tests and helping the kids focus and supporting the teachers in the different things they do to prepare for the tests,” he said.
Rosborg, who works part-time in McKendree University’s education program, said the family’s economic background can also play a role.
Less than 25 percent of the student populations in the O’Fallon and Waterloo districts were considered low-income last year because they were eligible for free or reduced-price lunches or because their families received public aid. Freeburg’s percentage of low-income students was 17 percent.
In East St. Louis School District 189, however, almost all of the students (96 percent) came from low-income families in 2017. Six percent of the children in elementary school there met the state’s math and English standards.
Teachers need at least a bachelor’s degree to work. If they go back to school to study for a master’s or doctorate degree, they increase their salaries.
With higher degrees, Freeburg School District 77’s teachers made $62,440 on average in 2017, according to state data.
O’Fallon School District 203’s average salary was slightly lower at $61,494, while teachers in Waterloo School District 5 were paid an average of $48,008.
All of the districts were below the statewide average salary for teachers, which is $64,516.
The three districts have employed some of the metro-east’s most educated teachers every year from 2013 to 2017.
They are among 22 area districts where more than half of the teaching staff has consistently had a degree higher than a bachelor’s for the last five years.
Several Belleville school districts are also on that list, including Belleville 118, Belleville 201, Belle Valley 119 and Whiteside 115.
East St. Louis 189 is another district where more than half of the teachers have had master’s degrees or higher over the five-year period.