Illinois Releases New School Report Card

The Illinois State Board of Education released its state report card for the 2015-2016 school year yesterday. Illinois PTA has shared how to navigate the report card, and this year’s version offers some new tools and new information. This year’s report card is also mobile-friendly, an important feature since many families in Illinois only have internet access through their mobile provider. Much of the report card is translated into Spanish by clicking the “Español” at the top or bottom of the page, though some parts remain in English, primarily descriptions and embedded text on charts and buttons.

Among those new tools are a series of short videos to help you navigate the report card and use the information available. These videos are all on the main page at IllinoisReportCard.com. New information is being collected are reported this year as well, including teacher attendance and the number of high school students earning college credit through dual credit, Advanced Placement (AP), and International Baccalaureate (IB) courses.

The 2016 Illinois Report Card will serve as a benchmark as school accountability changes under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). ISBE is currently drafting its ESSA Implementation Plan, due in March 2017, which will define how school success is measured. Illinois PTA has covered ESSA and accountability in an earlier One Voice Illinois post.

Despite Illinois’s budget and education funding issues, the report card notes improvements in some areas of student performance, though many indicators remained fairly steady. Those improvements include:

  • An increase in students earning a 21 or higher ACT composite score from 45.6% to 46.4%
  • An increase in students meeting or exceeding PARCC math proficiency standards from 28.2% to 30.5%
  • An increase in statewide student attendance from 94.2% to 94.4%
  • A decrease in the high school dropout rate from 2.3% to 2.0%

Be sure to check out the report card to see how your child, your school, and your district are doing.

First Lady Michelle Obama Launches Campaign to Help Students Go to College

bettermakeroomImproving student success depends on a lot of different variables—poverty, accountability, school climate, teachers, curriculum, and more. One piece of the puzzle that doesn’t get much attention is access to college advising.

The Economic Mobility Project notes that in schools serving predominately low-income students there are more than one thousand students per counselor. Those counselors are responsible for walking each student through high school to graduation and onto college or career, and the lack of access to student counseling is a contributing factor in the gap between students’ goals after high school and their attainment. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 59% of students from the lowest quarter of household income expect to graduate from college, but eight years later, only 14% have done so.

First Lady Michelle Obama, herself a first-generation college graduate, has launched the Better Make Room initiative to help families navigate the path from high school to college. One important part of the Better Make Room initiative is Up Next, a national mobile messaging tool that provides assistance with college searches, applying to college, federal student aid, and student loan repayment. This advising is designed to supplement school counselors and to provide extra support for students who may not have any access to counseling in their schools or communities.

To sign up, students or parents simply text COLLEGE to 44044. Better Make Room takes it from there.

The initiative also provides families with tools and resources to help make informed decisions about college and adulthood, including:

  • Napkin Finance: A financial education and resource site to help students with all of life’s major decisions.
  • Financial Aid Shopping Sheet: A document that students can fill out to break down the costs of going to college.
  • Net Price Calculator Center: A tool that links to each college or university’s online calculator. This calculator lets students enter information about themselves to find out what students like them paid to attend the college after taking grants and scholarship aid (aid that students receive that they do not have to pay back) into consideration.
  • Federal Student Aid (FSA): An information site to help students learn what types of aid are available, how to become eligible for aid, and how to apply and manage loans once they’ve been accepted.
  • College Navigator: A tool to help students locate colleges and universities that meet their needs and career goals, including distance from home, type of college, degrees offered, and more.
  • College Scorecard: A tool covered previously on One Voice Illinois that provides information on college costs, graduation, student debt, and post-college earnings.

Any family trying to help their child go to college will find these tools and resources from Better Make Room useful in navigating what can often be a confusing process.

New Guide Helps Hispanic Families Navigate the College Application Process

graduate-2-0-cover-spanishLatino students are graduating high school and enrolling in college at the highest rates in our history, and they are now the largest minority group in our nation’s colleges and universities. However, only 23% of Hispanic adults 25 and older have an associate degree or higher, and only 12% have a masters or doctorate.

In order to better support Hispanic students in completing high school and enrolling in college, the US Department of Education released ¡Gradúate! 2.0: A College Planning Guide to Success on October 11th. The guide is a follow-up to ¡Gradúate!: A Financial Aid Guide to Success. Both guides are available in English and Spanish and are useful to all families. The new guide outlines the steps that students should take through high school up through heading off to college, including:

  • Preparing for College
  • The Process of Applying and Enrolling
  • Paying for College
  • Preparing for the First Semester of College

Students who are the first in their family to go to college face challenges that those whose parents went to college don’t deal with and may need extra support, whether it is taking the classes needed to be accepted into college, understanding the application process, or applying for financial aid. This new guide will provide these students and their families with information and resources to navigate the process of going to college.

College Changes Everything Month and the New FAFSA

The free and easy way to apply for financial aidThe US Department of Education has changed when students heading to or already in college can fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The FAFSA can be filed as of October 1, 2016, three months earlier than in years past, and will use 2015 income and tax information. In conjunction with this change, the Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) is launching College Changes Everything Month, combining the activities of College Application Month and Financial Aid Awareness Month from years past.

The new earlier FAFSA availability means that families need to submit their FAFSA forms as soon as possible, as assistance in Illinois is generally provided on a first-come, first-served basis. Remember that the FAFSA needs to be filled out annually, so freshman in college this year will need a new FAFSA form for their sophomore year (and similarly for higher grades). Be aware that colleges and universities may be moving their deadlines earlier as well. For example, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign has a November 30, 2016 deadline for Fall 2017, Spring 2018, and Summer 2018 financial aid. Check college and university websites for their specific deadlines.

To help families fill out the FAFSA, the Department of Education has created a list of 12 common FAFSA mistakes. The list, complete with interactive buttons to take you to appropriate resources, helps families avoid these mistakes:

  1. Not completing the FAFSA
  2. Not using the correct website (gov)
  3. Not getting an FSA ID ahead of time
  4. Waiting to fill out the FAFSA
  5. Not filing by the deadline
  6. Not using your FSA ID to start the FAFSA
  7. Not reading definitions carefully
  8. Inputting incorrect information
  9. Not reporting parent information
  10. Listing only one college
  11. Not using the IRS Data Retrieval Tool
  12. Not signing the FAFSA

Be sure to check out the list of common FAFSA mistakes to find out more information on how to avoid each one.