Illinois Loop
Your guide to education in Illinois
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The Illinois Loop website is no longer updated on a a regular basis. However, since many of the links and articles have content and perspectives that are just as valid today, we are keeping this website online for parents, teachers and others researching school issues and solutions.
Broken links:If you encounter links that no longer lead to the desired article, it's still often possible to retrieve them. Most of the linked items include a sentence or more from the original. Copy a section of that text, and type it into Google surrounded by quotes. More often than not, Google will find the article at a revised location.

 

Measures of a School

Illinois ISAT Tests

    Get YOUR School's Results!

  • Illinois School Report Cards: Get your district's current and past state "Report Cards" at this site.

  • The best way (by far!) to review current results for a school or district is this:

    For ISAT results and much, much more, click here:

    Interactive Illinois Report Card

    The Interactive Illinois Report Card website provides ISAT results in very easy-to-read formats complete with graphics. Created by Harvey Smith at Northern Illinois University, the IIRD is a wonderful service for anyone wanting easy data at their fingertips or a comparison with other districts. The IIRD's friendly and interactive graphs are more than just a bonus. They're highly interactive and enable extraordinary digging into a wealth of data, just perfect for parents, reformers, and taxpayers.

    To read more about the IIRD, see this:
    Illinois School Analysis Made Easy with NIU's Interactive Report Card by George A. Clowes, School Reform News, December 1, 2004.

Issues About Testing

Evaluating Schools

  • The Best Way To Find Out What's Wrong With America's Schools? Test Them. by Bill Evers and Herbert J. Walberg, Hoover Digest, Number 4, 2004. Excerpt:
    "Tests tell us what the problem is. U.S. students perform comparably to their international peers in the early grades but steadily lose ground as they move up in age and grade. By high school, U.S. student achievement ranks below that in almost all other industrialized commercial societies ... It's hard to resist the conclusion that something is wrong in America's schools -- something that people who are active in civic life need to set right. In the effort to hold schools accountable, tests constitute a critical tool that can help identify children with learning disabilities, judge the efficacy of chosen curricula, and suggest the degree to which educational products, programs, and practices are working. That information arms state and local school boards with the knowledge they need to make appropriate choices. In terms of accountability, tests provide the data so that decisionmakers can do the rest."

  • A Better Way To Grade Schools by Bill Breisch. Excerpts: "As a result of NCLB, ... schools and school districts will either 'make AYP' or be labeled 'in need of improvement.' Unfortunately, these assessments do not by themselves tell the full story about how well a school is performing. ... That the current system does not fairly depict the quality of a school or district became clearer than ever in a study released last year ... Some of the findings of this important study require us to challenge our current perception of school success. It turns out that:
    * Schools with similar status levels differ substantially in the achievement gains of their students.
    * More than 20 percent of 'high-achieving' schools fall into the bottom quarter of schools in terms of the value they add to their students' achievement.
    * Many 'low-achieving' schools actually cause as much growth in their students' learning as the best high-achievement schools.
    NCLB should be a floor for states to judge school accountability, ensuring a minimal level of accountability while allowing states to develop additional indicators of school success. One of those indicators should be growth measures for each and every student -- the only way we can begin to understand if a school or school district is truly successful in leaving no child behind."

School Rankings and Reports

  • Chicago Magazine rankings: Once in a while, this magazine assembles rankings of Chicago-area schools. (As of this writing, the most recent is in their October 2006 issue.) This leads to much spinning, as in this example from a Highland Park school:
    The October issue of Chicago Magazine highlights the best elementary and middle schools in the Chicagoland area. Edgewood Middle School is ranked as the fourth best school in all of Lake County, one of only two middle schools honored! Congratulations to all!
    But just as Chicago Magazine itself is highly impressed by wealth (and upscale advertisers), so also its school rankings are heavily skewed towards sheer bulk of spending rather than quality. Looking at the methodology, we find this key phrase: "On the city chart, none of the innovative new charter schools rank in our top 30. One reason is that our scoring system awarded high marks to schools with more experienced teachers and better pay." Of course, more experienced teachers command higher salaries, so using both of these stats doubly skews the data. Using both teacher pay (rather than teacher quality) and average expenditures per student (which we know has little correlation to good education) undoubtedly skews the data toward the wealthier districts.

"Blue Ribbon" Schools

    Don't be misled by schools that proudly proclaim their "Blue Ribbon" from the federal Department of Education. These older "Blue Ribbons" have almost nothing to do with student achievement, and everything to do with adherence to the prevailing fads in education theory. A parent would be wise to be especially cautious of schools announcing their "Blue Ribbon."

    Here are some links to learn further about that "Blue Ribbon" sign you may see on your neighborhood school.

    The "Old" Blue Ribbon Program (Pre-2002)

    • A Blue Ribbon For Everything But Education: by Debra Saunders, San Francisco Chronicle. Excerpt: "Since 1982, the U.S. Department of Education has awarded some 4,000 schools Blue Ribbons because they are 'models of excellence and equity.' ... One problem: As a study by the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., found, Blue Ribbon's 'cutting edge' can be the edge of mediocrity."

    • "In Praise of Mediocrity," by Tom Loveless and Paul DiPerna, Education Next, Summer 2001. This is an excellent account of what was wrong with the old Blue Ribbon Schools program. Excerpts: "In 1999 ... the achievement of Blue Ribbon schools was above average, but hardly outstanding. ... Schools that have experience filling out grant applications or other applications similar to those required for the Blue Ribbon award apparently know how to spin mediocre test scores so that they don't diminish a school's chances for an award. ... The Blue Ribbon Schools Program is a dinosaur. It judges schools by what they do instead of what they accomplish. ... The problems continue with the program's support for 'best practices' that have no basis in research. The application for Blue Ribbon schools recommends student-initiated learning, curriculum integration, extracurricular opportunities, elimination of tracking and ability grouping, teaching to different learning styles, and technology integration. There is no convincing body of research showing that these practices are valuable."

    • "A Sad Story of Schools and Scores" by Gerald and Natalie Sirkin. Excerpt: "Schools apply [to the federal Department of Education] for [a Blue Ribbon]. Of the 400 that applied in 2000, 202 merited an on-site visit, and all but four of those received a Blue Ribbon. ... One naturally assumes that the award is for high academic achievement. Not so. Blue Ribbon schools include some high academic achievers but many with mediocre achievement and some very little. Seven criteria for the award are vague 'rubrics' (e.g., 'leadership and educational vitality'). Only one, 'indicators of success,' is related to measuring academic achievement."

    • In his book "Class Warfare" Martin Rochester advises to be "wary of a false sense of accomplishment on the part of your child or your school. The number of 'My child is an honor student' bumper stickers and 'We are a Blue Ribbon school' banners is multiplying in inverse proportion to NAEP achievement scores." (p. 241)

    The "New" Blue Ribbon Program

      There is some good news about the "old" federal Blue Ribbon program -- it's been terminated!

      On October 24, 2001, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced that at the completion of its 2001-2002 "cycle", the Blue Ribbon program would be replaced by a "No Child Left Behind" program (the same name as the gargantuan federal package of ed legislation passed in 2002).

      On July 28, 2002, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige announced that schools singled out for national honors will now reflect the goals of our nation's new education reforms for high standards and accountability. On July 28, 2002, details of the new program were announced. While it will still be called the "Blue Ribbon Schools Program", the whole focus and goal of the plan has changed for the better. In the announcement, Rod Paige rather pointedly observed, "...schools singled out for national honors will now reflect the goals of our nation's new education reforms for high standards and accountability..." -- the word "now" in that statement contrasts the program with what was in place before! Now the objective is to "honor public and private K-12 schools that are either academically superior in their states or that demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement." According to Rod Paige, "In keeping with the principles of the No Child Left Behind Act, we will reward schools based on student achievement results, not process."

    • "Changes Afoot for Blue Ribbon Schools," by Jane Elizabeth, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, July 30, 2002.

    • Details about the new Blue Ribbon program are on this website from the U.S. Department of Education. Note the separate sections of information listed at the top of that page.

    • Applications from private schools are coordinated by a private non-profit group, the Council for American Private Education (CAPE). Information on how the Blue Ribbon program operates for these schools is carried on CAPE's website.

    • Here are the lists of award winners. In 2003, 14 of the schools were in Illinois. 13 of those were public schools, and there was one private school: Christian Heritage Academy in Northfield.

Buy a Pretend "Blue Ribbon"

  • Grayslake School District Given Awards By Company It Hired by Bob Susnjara, Daily Herald, June 2, 2008. "For six months, Grayslake Elementary District 46 has boasted having three award-winning schools. ... What's not mentioned is South Carolina-based Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence Inc. named the award winners after being paid $22,192 to assess seven District 46 schools. Documents obtained by the Daily Herald through the Freedom of Information Act show the district spent an extra $15,732 for 20 administrators and teachers to attend a five-day Blue Ribbon Schools conference and awards banquet in North Charleston, S.C., in December. ...
      "Edward M. Mazze, distinguished professor of business administration at the University of Rhode Island, questions the use of public money to hire companies such as Blue Ribbon Schools. ... Mazze said the public should understand the district struck a business deal with Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence, and the company's awards are of no significance. ... 'There are enough schools looking for recognition to allow this company to have many profitable years, as one school recommends to another school to apply for this 'honor' as long as they have the fee to pay for it,' said Mazze, who reviewed Blue Ribbon Schools promotional materials for the Daily Herald. ...
      "Parents should realize it's 'buyer beware' when it comes to education kudos publicized from private organizations, said Susan Shafer, spokeswoman for Standard & Poor's School Evaluation Services. ...
      "Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence is a ... private business ... not to be confused with the U.S. Department of Education's No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools award initiative, considered one of the most prestigious in the country."

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