What’s New with the Illinois School Report Card

The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) released its annual school report card last week. There is one significant change to the report card this year as more of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) goes into effect: site-specific expenditure reporting. That means that the school report card now shows the federal and state/local funding for each school in your school district. Illinois PTA worked closely with ISBE and other stakeholders over the past 18 months to ensure that the data were presented in an as easy to understand format as possible. Here’s what you need to know.

 

  1. Site-specific expenditure reporting shows how your district is spending its money at each school on a per student basis. Prior to this data becoming available on the report card, only a district’s total spending per pupil was available. With this data, administrators, school boards, families, and community members can see how a school district is allocating their funds among their schools.

 

  1. Not all of a district’s spending is included. The per pupil amounts being reported are regular and ongoing PreK-12 education expenses and are broken down further between federal funding and state/local funding. The latter does include items like donations from PTAs or grants from a school foundation. Also included are each school’s share of central district expenses (e.g., staff at the administrative building). Among the items not included are spending for  capital projects (e.g., building/renovating school buildings), debt service, fire prevention and safety spending, adult education services, and other spending not directly tied to educating students from age 3 to 12th grade.

 

  1. The data are presented in several different ways. The primary visual you will see on the school finances page (under the “District Environment” menu bar) of the report card is a bar chart with each school in the district represented by a vertical bar of per student spending ranked from lowest to highest. Below that bar chart is a data table with the information for each school in numerical form. Finally, a clickable link just above the bar chart will take you to a scatterplot where you can see per student expenditures graphed against several different variables such as the school’s summative designation, enrollment, English language learners, low-income students, or students with Individual education plans (IEPs).

 

  1. The data are a starting point for conversations. The fact that your child’s school is low or high in per pupil spending relative to the other schools in your district does not tell the entire story. Your district had the opportunity to add a narrative section to explain why the data look the way they do, so check to see if that information is included on the school report card page. Note that this being the first year with this data, many school districts may not have done this. Also consider what things could explain some of the differences, such as school population, high school vs. elementary school, a bilingual education program at a specific school, or a concentration of students from low-income families or with special needs. Also consider how students are performing (see the scatterplot chart with schools’ summative designations)—a school with low cost per student but high student achievement is a cause for celebrating their success, not complaining that the district isn’t spending enough there. ISBE has some information sheets that can help you dig into the data on site-based expenditure reporting (Overview and Exploring the Visualizations, which has some questions to consider as you explore the data). Use the data to have conversations at your PTA meetings or with your school’s principal or district’s superintendent and school board.

 

The new site-based expenditure reporting data has the potential to spark some powerful conversations in your school district about student success, equity, and overall school funding. PTA does its best work when we advocate for all children, and this year’s school report card provides your PTA with the opportunity to have deep, meaningful conversations with your school district that can have a more profound effect on your child’s education than almost any other activity your PTA could pursue.

 

Other Changes

There are a few other changes to the state report card:

  • Test results for the elementary and middle school grades are now from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness (IAR), and data from the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment have been moved to the “Retired Tests” section.
  • A growth measurement determined from the IAR has been added for elementary and middle schools. This data illustrates how students have improved year over year compared to their peers who had the same IAR score in math or English. It is a measure of how much students have improved, regardless of whether they are meeting the Illinois Learning Standard or not. You can find out more from this ISBE information sheet.
  • New subgroups have been added:
    • Students with disabilities
    • Students categorized as Migrant
    • Students from Military Families
    • Students categorized as Youth in Care
    • Students categorized as Homeless (High school graduation rate only)
  • The “5 Essentials Survey” has been replaced with the “School Climate Survey” and displays information from the one of three ISBE-approved climate surveys the school has used.
  • Data from the Illinois Science Assessment has been added for grades 5 and 8 and high school biology.

The State We’re In 2019

Three years ago, Advance Illinois released a report summarizing the current state of education in Illinois. That report, using data and maps to show just how widespread the challenges in funding, poverty, and achievement were across the state, was a crucial factor in the General Assembly passing the new Evidence-Based Funding model the following year. Advance Illinois has now released a follow-up report looking at how things have changed over the last two years.

Like the previous report, The State We’re In 2019 uses data from school districts and mapping to illustrate where Illinois schools are today. A few key points from the report are:

  • Access to early childhood education for low-income students continues to be far short of what is needed
  • Kindergarten readiness is now being measured, and the majority of students enter kindergarten are not fully prepared in all three developmental areas. While white students are generally better prepared than their peers from low-income households or families of color, less than one-third of white students across the state are fully prepared for kindergarten.
  • Illinois student growth (improvement in proficiency) is among the leaders in the nation (sixth for math and eighth for reading between grades 3 and 8), but actual proficiency continues to lag the national average. Put another way, while Illinois is doing well at improving student performance, this growth is not fast enough nor far-reaching enough to overcome the early education deficits to prepare students for college and careers.
  • Illinois ranks in the bottom 10 states for student access to school counselors. Access to counselors can be critical in preparing students for college and careers.
  • More Illinois students are entering and completing college, but equity gaps persist.
  • The Evidence-Based Funding model is working to direct more funding to those schools furthest from adequate funding, but the majority of districts are still well below 90% of adequacy.

You can download the report from Advance Illinois and check out the interactive maps to show how various measures have changed for each school district, including the ability to focus on a particular district’s performance.

How School Districts are Using Their New Funding

Illinois enacted a new school funding formulain August 2017. Known as the Evidence-Based Funding (EBF) model, it calculates what adequate funding for a district would be and directs the majority of additional state funds to those districts furthest from adequacy. The legislature has committed to providing an additional $350 million per year for the next ten years. The first year of additional funding began last year, and last month the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) has released a special issue of their newsletter focused on how 50 districts from across the state are spending this new funding.

The report features stories from districts large and small located all over the state. The diversity of the districts still share one common theme—the additional funding has been a “godsend.” For too many years, Illinois has underfunded its schools (and continues to do so even with the EBF model), resulting in districts relying on property taxes to try and fill the gaps where they can, but in many cases having to cut funding for critical programs. With new funds coming to districts for the past two years, here’s a sampling of what’s been happening:

  • Adding reading supports in elementary schools in East Moline SD #37
  • Reducing the size of elementary classrooms, adding instructional coaches, and taking steps to address the teacher shortage in Galesburg CUSD #205
  • Maintaining class sizes, updating instructional materials, and providing additional mental health resources for students in Belleville TWP HSD #201
  • Addressing the social-emotional needs of students, especially those of at-risk students, in Quincy SD #172
  • Creating “innovation zones” at the elementary level in collaboration with its teachers to improve student achievement and lengthen the elementary day by 45 minutes in Rockford Public Schools #205
  • Hiring full-time art and music teachers and creating three STEM labs with smart boards, a 3-D printer, robotics, and computers for students to learn coding in Chicago Ridge SC #127.5

There are many more stories in the reportshowing how the new funding is making a difference for the students of Illinois. If the General Assembly stays committed to its promise to increase funding by $350 million years, all Illinois school districts will not reach 90% of their adequate funding level for another 30 years. It is essential that PTA advocates continue to ask legislators to increase the growth in education funding to bring our schools to adequate funding faster.

National PTA Response to Federal School Safety Commission Report

After eight months of public input, commission meetings and field visits across the county, the Federal School Safety Commission released its report on ways to keep students safe at school. The report includes several recommendations aligned with National PTA positions and A Framework for Safe and Successful Schools–joint recommendations written and endorsed by our nation’s leading education stakeholders and practitioners – on improved access to school-based mental and behavioral health services, threat assessments protocols, comprehensive school safety plans, and role of school resource officers (SROs).

However, we would have liked to see the Commission include common sense proposals to limit youth access to firearms, strengthen background checks, fund gun violence research efforts, and ban assault weapons. Our association believes any effort to improve the safety of our nation’s youth must be comprehensive and include gun safety and violence prevention measures.

National PTA supports positive school discipline policies that include a strong family engagement component and keep children in school and learning over exclusionary discipline. We are disappointed to see the report recommends the rescission of the 2014 school discipline guidance from the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice. Without this guidance, we are concerned that students of color and students with special needs will face even more disparate levels of discipline compared to their white peers.

Our association also believes that to promote positive school climates that encourage nurturing relationships, connectedness and mutual trust and respect among students, staff and families, there must be people and practices within the school building to ensure a safe and supportive learning environment. While the report focuses on the need for increased use of evidence-based frameworks to support and implement behavioral, health and mental health services, the report does not include a recommendation to increase the staffing ratios of school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, and school nurses who can provide those supports.

“While the Commission’s report does not explicitly recommend arming educators, National PTA believes the most effective day-to-day school climate is a gun-free campus—which includes not arming teachers and administrators. Teachers and administrators should be able to focus on their primary responsibility, which is to educate our children,” said Jim Accomando, president of National PTA. “Our association opposes any attempt to use federal funds to arm or provide firearm training for educators. National PTA recognizes that school safety is a multi-faceted issue with no one clear solution for every community. We believe any effort to address school safety must involve all stakeholders who should consider a variety of factors, including the physical and psychological safety of students.”

“All of us share the responsibility to create and ensure safe, supportive and welcoming learning environments. We look forward to working with the Commission, the administration, Congress, and state and local policy makers to shape policies based on evidenced-based best practices in school safety and climate, discipline, student mental health, instructional leadership, teaching and learning” said Nathan Monell, executive director of National PTA.