Much improvement needed in RSD205 to provide foundation for Transform Rockford

Currently, many positive things are happening in the Rockford School District. The community is providing $250M over the next ten years for elementary school facilities, new high school classrooms and field houses, renovated libraries and new school buildings, providing an environment conducive to learning.

The district is also implementing new educational concepts such as career academies, the business and industrial communities are becoming involved with schools through the Rockford Alignment process and volunteering for United Way’s “I READ” program.

However, Achieving Competitive Excellence – ACE – programs in business concentrate not only on the implementation of a process or program, but also measurement of the results and correction of the process, based on those results, to achieve excellence.

The Illinois State Achievement Test – ISAT – measures the achievement of students in reading and mathematics in grades three through eighth and science in grades four and seven.

The test produces data, the Illinois Report Card, used for local and state analysis and for school improvement planning of the programs implemented – ACE for schools.

The annual ISAT is an invaluable tool to confirm our children are on track to compete in today’s global economy, providing transparency and accountability to community leaders, which is crucial for community engagement and fundamental to Transform Rockford’s efforts for 2025.

Take, for example, the graduation rate of 92.1 percent predicted by the 2014 Illinois Report Card for the district’s high school freshmen class, which has been continually touted in the local media suggesting that the school district is on the right track.

However, a meaningful check of our local level of success requires that all ISAT data must be observed and reported. The current graduation rate is only 68%, according to the 2014 ISBE report, having increased 4% in the past year.

As another example, the ISBE report sets a minimum level of 22.0 for the ACT college achievement exam to conclude that a student is ready for college course work, and also reports how many graduates from each district in the state attended college.

Rockford’s graduation rate may be increasing, but the report data shows that only 50 percent of graduates enroll in college within 16 months and only 28 percent had scored a 22.0 or better on the ACT compared to the state average of 46 percent.

As a result, over 50 percent of the local school districts’ graduates attending Rock Valley College are required to take one to three remedial or developmental courses to achieve the level required for college courses, with less than a third achieving that goal.

The 2014 ISBE report shows that only 10 schools out of 46 in the district had a majority of their students meet or exceed the state requirements and two of those schools were gifted – that’s 18 percent – less than one in five of the non-gifted schools meeting the minimum state standards.

Overall, only 41 percent of the students taking the ISAT test meet or exceed the state standards. The standards were increased in 2013 to better align with college and career ready expectations. Therefore, 59 percent, almost 6 in 10 students in the district do not meet these standards.

Also, after the standards were raised, every elementary school in the district, except Thurgood Marshall School, which didn’t take the 2012 ISAT test, scored lower on the 2013 ISAT than the previous year!

The percent of students meeting or exceeding standards dropped from an average of 67.6 percent to 40.9 percent, a drop of almost 40 percent from the 2012 ISAT tests! Three schools dropped approximately 60 percent after the standards were raised.

This year’s ISAT showed that 23 schools increased their scores over the 2013 scores, but 20 schools scored even lower than the previous year’s lower scores.

There is a lot of work remaining. The ACE process recommends drilling down to the root cause of problem areas to achieve excellence – a future topic. Education should be the district’s top priority – not teaching to the test, but as a minimum, correcting the students’ lack of understanding in areas where they answered the questions incorrectly.

The educational challenges in RSD205 are obviously not limited to improving the graduation rate. The overall ISAT results certainly do not merit kudos at this time. Accolades and awards should be deferred until results improve, not presented merely for implementation of programs or facilities.