State ratings improve at District 161; Parker no longer ‘underperforming’

Flossmoor School District 161 saw a positive trend on its Illinois State Board of Education Report Card ratings this year, with two of its elementary schools performing in the top 10 percent of schools statewide, and Parker Junior High shedding its “underperforming” designation.
The Illinois State Board of Education evaluates each of the state's more than 3,000 schools each year for academic success.
  The Illinois State Board
  of Education evaluates
  each of Illinois' more
  than 3,000 schools
  annually for academic
  success, issuing each
  a Report Card.


Heather Hill Elementary and Western Avenue Elementary both received “exemplary” designations, while the district’s other schools, including Parker, received “commendable” designations.

The annual designations measure a variety of factors such as growth in academics, student success, school culture and climate, financial investments and chronic absenteeism.

The four potential ratings include exemplary, commendable, underperforming and lowest performing.

"Commendable" means no subgroups of students performed at or below the lowest 5 percent of students in Title I schools, and the graduation rate is higher than 67 percent. 

"Exemplary" means those standards are met and the school ranks in the top 10 percent of Illinois' more than 3,000 public schools.
Last year, the state designated all District 161 elementary schools as commendable, while Parker was designated as underperforming based on the performances of its low-income and special education student subgroups.
District 161 Superintendent Dana Smith said despite the overall positive trend, improvement is still needed in certain areas.
“We still have some challenging achievement gaps,” Smith said. “We want our proficiency numbers at Parker to increase. We want to make sure our students that are proficient in third grade are still proficient or better by fifth, sixth, seventh, etc.”
He said academic growth percentages are weighted heavily when calculating the ratings, a factor Smith believes pushed up the designations for Heather Hill and Western.
“They did really well all around, but the growth numbers in reading and math were incredible,” he said.
Smith said the other schools also demonstrated high levels of achievement, but year-to-year growth was most significant at those two schools.  
“Heather Hill in reading, their proficiency numbers were 52 percent overall,” he said. “Flossmoor Hills was 54 percent, but Heather Hill outpaced Flossmoor Hills in the growth category.”
The district received a preliminary report in mid October. The official ratings came Oct. 28, and the district released the information on Oct. 30. 
Smith said it was important to wait the appropriate amount of time to share the information because adjustments can come at the last minute.
“Last year, when we received our initial update, the schools were commendable, and then as the numbers adjusted and the state reviewed all the different ratings, that’s when the subgroups at Parker were identified,” he said.
Smith said data from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness, which was released earlier, had also shown academic growth, making him “cautiously optimistic” that the schools would receive ratings of Commendable or better on their report cards.
“It’s a credit to the teachers and administrators for really digging in and focusing on what kids need and how individual children need to be taught in the context of our new curriculum resources,” he said.
After Parker was designated as underperforming last year, the state asked the district to conduct a self evaluation and create improvement plans in exchange for grant money to follow through on those plans.
The district used the state funding to partner with Silver Strong & Associates, an educational instruction company that provided resources for a new program called Thoughtful Classroom. The program uses research-based instructional strategies to help students connect with information and demonstrate learning, Smith said.
The district began working with the company during summer 2019, then initiated the program at Parker at the start of the 2019-2020 academic year. Smith said administrators plans to implement Thoughtful Classroom district-wide next year.
“We’ve provided training to all of our administrators and a consultant to all of our principals from the Thoughtful Classroom to focus on high-quality instruction,” he said. 
The next steps including following each school's individual improvement plans and continuing to focus on bridging achievement gaps, Smith said.
“I think across the district, our achievement gaps — whether it be between special education and non-special education; or free and reduced lunch and non-free and reduced; or even between our different ethnicities — that is an area we need to address,” he said. 

“In order to do that, we need to be really good at knowing what our kids need, providing really good, quality instruction, assessing them along the way and then responding to any changes we have to make.”

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