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