Essence of ESSA: Growth versus Proficiency

Today’s guest post comes from the Real Learning for Real Life coalition, of which Illinois PTA is a member. The coalition helps families and communities understand how our education system is changing to provide the children of Illinois the best education possible. The article details how schools in Illinois are changing instruction as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) shifts the focus on student achievement from proficiency to growth. The coalition has also created a short 99-second video about the difference between growth and proficiency.

Academic Progress at Zion School Shows Promise of New System

Third and 4th graders at Beulah Park Elementary School in Zion are gaining crucial skills as they make inferences while reading books as varied as Junie B. Jones and a biography of 19th century scientist Mary Anning. Now that progress will be recognized in the way Illinois evaluates its schools.

Illinois’ plan as part of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan, the replacement for No Child Left Behind, provides a system for rating Illinois schools and for providing struggling schools with additional help. Illinois’ ESSA plan, developed by the Illinois State Board of Education, emphasizes academic growth in rating schools. Parents use the ratings to better understand their child’s school—or where to send their child to school—and the state uses the ratings to determine which schools will get additional assistance. The test scores of 4th graders improved by 17.5% last year, one of the largest improvements of any school in Illinois.

“It’s about closing the academic achievement gap, and growth really matters for that,” said Dr. Keely Roberts, Superintendent for Zion School District 6.

Lynn Butera (left), principal of Beulah Park Elementary School and Dr. Keely Roberts (right), Superintendent of Zion Elementary School District

No Child Left Behind emphasized academic proficiency, test scores from a single moment in time, rather than academic growth. Proficiency often correlates with a student’s race, income level or disability status and doesn’t provide a sense of a school’s academic progress. Schools have more control over academic growth. The vast majority of students at Beulah Park are minority and low-income, and 22% of students meet or exceed PARCC standards in 4th grade English language arts. ESSA will still take into account proficiency, which is particularly critical in the upper grades as it relates to college admission.

“We care about kids surviving in the world and getting into schools like U of I,” Roberts said. “The bar shouldn’t be lower for proficiency because that’s limiting to our children.”

A recent reading exercise in Valencia Samuel’s 4th grade class compared the biography of a 19th century scientist, Mary Anning, a famous fossil collector, with a modern story about saving porpoises. The concept of compare and contrast was reinforced in the classroom and in smaller sessions with individual students. Understanding the progress students are making helps the school make informed decisions about staffing individualized support sessions and the allocation of time during the school day.

“We look at every child and set goals,” said Lynn Butera, Principal at Beulah Park for the past 15 years. “We’re using data from our [assessment] scores and mastering skills and continuously growing to be more proficient.”

ESSA will provide a more nuanced picture of Illinois’ education system, funding for initiatives such as professional development of teachers and an updated plan for supporting schools. Its true promise is in the end goal of lifting achievement and helping prepare all students for college, career and a healthy life.

“Growth is what it’s all about,” said Julie Dobnikar, a 3rd grade teacher at Beulah Park for 16 years. “It’s about knowing when I have made a difference.”

The mission of the Real Learning for Real Life coalition is to close achievement gaps and prepare the whole student for college, career, and life after high school. In order to achieve this mission, we are working toward improving understanding of ESSA. Click here to receive email updates from Real Learning for Real Life.

New Parent Guide on Education Data

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is a dramatic change from the law it replaced, No Child Left Behind (NCLB). An important part of ESSA, as well as Illinois’s plan to implement the law, is the use of data to inform policymaking, to help teachers improve student achievement, and to aid families in supporting their child’s education. National PTA, in partnership with the Data Quality Campaign, has created a Parent Resource on Education Data.

The guide, a short one-page document, provides:

  • An explanation of what education data is
  • Examples of what data ESSA requires states and schools districts to collect and report
  • Questions to ask your school and district leaders about education data, how it is used, and how it can help you support your child
  • Information about how education can and can’t be used and who can access it

Be sure to read and share the Parent Resource on Education Data. PTAs should also consider working with their school or district to put on a workshop to help families understand education data and how they can use it to support their child’s education.


Engaging Teens at School

As high schools work to improve their graduation rate, a new study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute highlights how teens engage with their schools. The report, What Teens Want from Their Schools, presents the results of a survey of over 2,000 high schools students. The authors of the study have also provided a short video summary of the results of the survey and a five-question quiz to find out how engaged your teen is at school.

The survey results indicated that nearly all students report being motivated to work academically, but found that they engaged with school in different ways. The study identified six subgroups that engaged with their school in specific ways. Those groups are:

  1. Subject Lovers (19%): These students are more likely to be white males and place in the top quarter of their class. They are more likely than their peers to report that academic classes and clubs are their favorite things about school; they are more likely to take AP, Math, science, and technology classes; and they are least likely to say they are bored in class.
  2. Emotionals (18%): These students are equally divided between male and female, but are more likely to be white, urban, and from a high-poverty home. They express a strong need for connection at the school level, and if given a choice, would prefer a smaller school with fewer students who all know each other. Compared to their peers, they report they are less likely to follow the rules at their school or feel safe at school. They also report that they are not doing as well as their peers academically and report being less motivated than them as well. This places them in danger of falling through the cracks if their school doesn’t engage them emotionally.
  3. Hand Raisers (17%): These students are more likely to be female and less likely to come from high-poverty homes. They are engaged, work hard, and participate in class, but report that they don’t spend much time on homework or extracurricular activities. They are the least likely among their peers to say that they pretend to work, zone out, or let their mind wander in class. They are least likely to engage with after school clubs. In focus groups, these students said they were engaged in the classroom, but tended to unplug from school life once the final bell rings. They enjoy active participation in class, but tend not to form deep personal relationships with teachers and staff.
  4. Social Butterflies (16%): These students are more likely to feel that they belong at school and enjoy the social aspects of school (e.g., watching or taking part in sports, catching up with peers). The majority of them say their favorite things at school are “hanging out with friends” or “lunch time.” Among students who reported really connecting with an adult at school, these students were most likely to identify a coach as that adult.
  5. Teacher Responders (15%): Similar to the hand raisers, these students are slightly more likely to be female and not from high-poverty households. They differ from the hand raisers in that they value close relationships with teachers and other adults at school and do best when they feel teachers are invested in them both academically and personally. They are most likely to really connect with an adult at school, and that adult is most likely to be a teacher. They are group most satisfied with their school. The potential concern with these students is that if they don’t connect with a teacher, they can check out in class.
  6. Deep Thinkers (15%): These students are more likely to be female, and half are non-white. They are the most cognitively engaged group of students, but unlike those in other groups, has no other primary engagement method. They listen carefully, like to figure things out on their own, think deeply when taking tests, and complete their assignments. They are the least likely group to give their current school and “A” rating. They also report being dissatisfied with their teachers and the structure of the school day (e.g., starting too early or block scheduling). About one-third report that they have considered dropping out of high school.

The study provides further proof that there is no one way to engage students, and that using any specific approach is likely to disengage other students.

Illinois Public Schools Rank 11th Nationally

Illinois’s public schools face a lot of challenges—inequitable funding, underfunding by the state, and more. But a recent report released by WalletHub indicates when it comes to a broad measure of how public schools are doing, Illinois does better than most.

The report didn’t focus solely on school funding or academic outcomes, but aggregated two broad measures—quality and safety. The quality measure accounted for 60% of a state’s score and included items such as (3 points each, unless * indicated double weight):

  • Presence of public schools in “Top 700 Best US Schools”
  • High school graduation rate among low-income students
  • Dropout rate*
  • Math* and Reading* test scores
  • Median SAT* and ACT* scores
  • Share of 2016 high school class scoring “3” or higher on Advanced Placement (AP) tests*
  • Share of 2016 high school graduates who completed ACT and/or SAT*
  • Division of SAT and ACT results by percentile
  • Pupil-Teacher ratio
  • Share of licensed or certified K-12 teachers

For the safety measure, which accounted for 40% of the score, items included were (4 points each, unless * indicated double weight):

  • Share of threatened/injured high school students*
  • Share of high school students not attending school due to safety concerns
  • Share of high school students with access to illegal drugs
  • Share of high school students participating in violence
  • Share of armed high school students
  • Bullying incidence rate*
  • Disciplinary incidence rate
  • Youth incarceration rate

Using these measures, Illinois’s public schools ranked 9th in the nation in quality and 21st in safety, for an overall rank of 11th. Illinois tied Missouri for the highest median SAT score in the country, perhaps not too surprising given Illinois’s results from ACT testing in years past.

Photo © 2016 by Nick Youngson under Creative Commons license.