Education

With more focus on graduation in new state rankings, how do local high schools stack up?

Here’s what it takes to improve on the state PARCC assessment

New Athens Elementary School principal Jim Marlow talks about how they are preparing students to excel on state testing.
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New Athens Elementary School principal Jim Marlow talks about how they are preparing students to excel on state testing.

Nearly all of the metro-east’s high schools received high rankings under Illinois’ new school accountability system — even if their students’ test scores declined in 2018, according to state test data released Wednesday.

That’s because Illinois is moving away from academic proficiency as the only standard to judge schools, deciding instead that the number of students eventually walking across the stage at graduation is more important.

And four-year graduation rates are up from five years ago at about half of the public high schools in the area.

The accountability system still includes test scores as a measure of how well those schools are doing. They account for one-fifth of the ranking this year. It will be even less next year.

Graduation, though, accounts for half of the ranking.

State education officials are also looking at whether students are showing up for school and whether, as freshmen, they’re on track to graduate.

The new accountability system includes consequence for schools where students are struggling: more resources to help them improve.

Schools ranked for funding

The lowest-performing high schools in the state are eligible for $50,000 in federal grant money because of their graduation rates and students’ performance in the last two years. And the schools where some students’ test scores were falling behind their peers can get $15,000.

Local high schools are eligible for a total of $125,000, including:

East St. Louis Senior High: $50,000 based on 2017 data

Cahokia High: $30,000 based on 2018 data

Granite City High: $15,000 based on 2017 data

Madison Senior High: $15,000 based on 2018 data

East Alton-Wood River High: $15,000 based on 2017 data

Generally, the federal grant money can be spent on efforts like training for teachers, weekend and after-school programs for students, college visits or technology.

There is an application process that has to be approved by the state first. Several local educators said they were still working on it.

The highest-performing schools in the state will be touted as examples for them. Locally, that includes Triad and Steeleville high schools.

The rest of the metro-east’s high schools fell into the second-highest ranking, putting them just outside the top 10 percent of schools statewide.

Graduation rates improve

Although East St. Louis Senior High has had low test scores in the past, its graduation rate has climbed almost 10 percent in five years.

It had the lowest graduation numbers in the metro-east in 2013. Today, three out of four students there are finishing high school.

East St. Louis District 189 spokeswoman Sydney Stigge-Kaufman said the school started programs like a “Half Cap” ceremony to encourage them. Sophomores who stay on track can participate in a mock graduation ceremony with their families to celebrate the milestone of being halfway to their diploma, according to Stigge-Kaufman.

In Belleville, Superintendent Jeff Dosier said Belleville District 201 has an alternative program for students who are at-risk of not graduating, as well as night school and summer classes to help them make it to graduation on schedule.

Dosier said he thinks the new focus on graduation rates for school accountability is important because it captures the efforts students who don’t plan to go to college are making.

The SAT, a college entrance exam, is how Illinois tests high school juniors’ skills in reading and math. Scores might be lower for vocational students because they aren’t preparing for college. But if they graduate high school, the state is including their achievement in its measure of Belleville East and West.



Math scores drop

Nearly three out of four local schools had fewer students meeting the state’s standards for what they should know about math compared to last year, according to their 2018 SAT scores.

O’Fallon Township High School had the most students who were proficient in math in 2018 with 49 percent. Last year, it was Edwardsville High School with 55 percent.

The average percentage of students meeting the standards also fell across the state — from 37 to 34 percent in math and from 40 to 37 percent in reading.

More local students met the reading standards compared to math: Valmeyer High School had the largest percentage of students who were proficient in reading with 56 percent.

Although there is less emphasis on academic proficiency in the new accountability system, State Superintendent Tony Smith said there will continue to be standardized tests in Illinois schools that measure it.

In a media call last week, he told reporters that the state is required by federal law to give an assessment test to students in third grade through high school.

For elementary and middle school students, the test has been the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, known as PARCC, since 2015. High school students also took the PARCC exam until 2017, when the state switched to the SAT.

For more information about a school’s new state ranking and data, visit illinoisreportcard.com/Default.aspx.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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