Community Unit School District 7 Superintendent Joe Tieman told members of the Board of Education Monday night that school “report cards” recently released by the state show local students exceeding state levels in four of five categories that students were tested on last year.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that our staff and students are performing at their highest level since I’ve been here,” he said. Tieman said the district scored well even though the percentage of special needs students and students who live in poverty exceed state averages. “All these factors should spell doom and gloom, but not in Gillespie. I’ll put this district up against any district in the state. If you live here or work here, you have a lot to be proud of in how this district performs.”
Testing reflected on the report cards was conducted in five areas: Students in grades 3-8 took the Partnership for Assessing Readiness for Career and College (PARCC) tests for English language arts and math. Students in grades 5-8 and high school biology students took a state science assessment test, and high school juniors took the SAT test for English language arts and math. Local students showed proficiency that exceeds state averages in four of those five areas. The exception was the PARCC math test where grade school students posted a proficiency level of 28 percent, compared with a statewide average of 32 percent. Students either improved or maintained their levels of proficiency in all five categories, according to the report cards.
The test results are a stark departure from three years ago, when students district-wide underperformed in virtually all areas on which they were tested. At that time, Board President Mark Hayes called the test results “alarming” and the board directed school administrators to undertake an aggressive program to improve test scores.
“We had two or three years that were pretty brutal,” Tieman said, referring to past test scores. “The board wasn’t happy. These principals challenged our teachers and our teachers responded.” He recalled a meeting with teachers during which the issues were addressed. “Our teachers weren’t happy because they were working hard,” he said.
Tieman said the turn-around is credited to the board, building principals, teachers, students and parents.
Tieman said the turn-around is credited to the board, building principals, teachers, students and parents. Strategies implemented to improve scores included aligning the curriculum with the tests, improving instructional strategies and building student confidence.
Persons who want to review details of the school report cards for each of the district’s three attendance centers can access the information at www.illinoisreportcard.com.
Tieman compared CUSD 7’s results with results from schools in Macoupin County, counties within Regional Educational Service Region 40 and the South Central Conference—a total of 20 school districts.
“When we look at PARCC math scores, we ranked seventh, meaning we outperformed 13 other school districts,” Tieman said. CUSD 7 ranked third in PARCC English language arts scores, fourth in SAT math, fifth in science and seventh in PARCC math scores. “For SAT language arts, Gillespie High School ranked No. 1.”
Tieman said the staff is determined to continue the trend. “We are going to be the flagship district for this area,” he said. “That’s what we’re shooting for.”
“When we come back here next year, we want to have Gillespie High School being No. 1 in both areas (English and math),” GHS Principal Shane Owsley said.
Improvement in the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards in English and math, he said, is remarkable, particularly in light of the number of GHS students who live in poverty.
“We have the second highest poverty rate in the county,” Owsley said. “When you look at some of the schools that outperform us, we’re working with a very different demographic.”
Middle School Principal Jill Rosentreter took issue with a local newspaper that identified Gillespie Middle School as “underperforming” in a headline over a recent front-page story, even though GMS students posted a 42 percent proficiency level overall compared with a statewide average of 37 percent. In science, GMS students posted a proficiency level of 80 percent compared with a 50 percent average for the state.
“We’re very excited about that,” she said, referring to the science scores. “In the last three or four years, we’ve continued to grow.”
The State Board of Education labeled the school as “underperforming” because of a quirk in the formula it uses to rate school’s performance levels. GMS has a high percentage of IEP students—students who need special attention because of emotional or behavior issues, learning disabilities, or physical or mental disabilities. Because the school has more than 20 such students, the state considers them a “subgroup” within the school, and because that subgroup averaged a growth rate of only 19 percent over the past three years, the state assigned an indicator of zero to be factored into the overall score.
“That group shows growth but the growth was not enough to earn points,” she said.
“You don’t have to be a math major to know that zero times anything is zero,” she said. That factor, in essence, monkey-wrenched the school’s overall score even though the school posted stellar academic scores in the areas in which students were tested.
The news story apparently was based on a letter distributed by Supt. Tieman which explained the discrepancy in scoring. The newspaper, however, pulled the “underperforming” label to feature in the headline over the story.
Rosentreter said parents and community members who read the headline without delving deep into the story would come away with the impression that GMS is not meeting academic standards. “This is very disheartening to our teachers, it’s very disheartening to our parents, and you know how I feel about it,” she said.
Overall PARCC scores for Ben-Gil Elementary students showed 49 percent meeting or exceeding standards in math and English, compared with a statewide average of 37 percent.
Tieman noted that the district report card showed that 21 percent of students are IEP students, compared with a statewide average of 15 percent; 77 percent of district students are identified as low income, compared with 49 percent for the state; and five percent of district students are homeless, compared with a statewide average of two percent.
The report card indicates the district should be spending $15,317,608 on student instruction, though the actual amount the district spends is $8,438,720. That puts the adequacy of district funding for education at 55 percent of the amount the state says is needed to meet expectations.
“In theory, we hope to get to $15 million,” Tieman said, primarily due to changes in the school funding formula. In the meantime, he noted, “despite our limited resources, we are outperforming academically most of the districts in our area.”
The district spends $5,326 per student on instruction, according to the report card, far below the statewide average of $8,023 per student.