Troy, Coal City, Plainfield superintendents support new school rating system

School practices and programs now account for 70 percent of state standing

Anthony Vargas, 11, and other fifth-grade students at Woodland Elementary School take a practice PARCC test in March. A new measure significantly changes the way schools are rated by taking into account a school's professional practices and programs for increasing student success. In the past, standardized testing was alone used as the benchmark for school success. But under IBAM, standardized testing only accounts for 30 percent of that grade. (Shaw Media file photo)

Coal City is known as a blue-collar town with a heavy emphasis on the trades.

But school standing in the eyes of the state had always relied on students’ performance in standardized tests. So the conventional rating system for Coal City schools never factored in student success in areas – like being good in the hands-on trades that offer multiple career opportunities – other than test-taking.

“We do good on the standardized tests,” Superintendent Kent Bugg said of his Coal City School District 1. “But anytime that you grade schools based upon one variable, it’s not an accurate way to measure anything.”

But that’s changing with the signing of a bill that dramatically shifts the focus of school accountability in the state.

Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Aug. 1 into law the Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure, or IBAM. The new measure significantly changes the way schools are rated by taking into account a school’s professional practices and programs for increasing student success.

Gauging accountability

IBAM changes the formula used for determining a school’s standing.

Under existing No Child Left Behind, or NCLB, laws, standardized testing was alone used as the benchmark for school success. But under IBAM, standardized testing only accounts for 30 percent of that grade.

The remaining 70 percent is a mixture of other educational components, including financial and instructional practices, connections with families and the community and shared leadership, governance and success.

“Student outcomes and scores are very important and there is no question that they do represent success of the school,” said Troy School District 30-C Superintendent Todd Koehl, a member of the superintendents team that helped craft the new law.

“But many things are going on that contribute to that,” Koehl said. “We also wanted the accountability model to reflect practices that go on in a school.”

Koehl said sometimes test scores don’t show that, but at the same time other good programs or practices are helping students succeed.

The new measure came out of the state Vision 20/20 initiative, which is a partnership with the Illinois Association of School Administrators, Illinois Principals Association, Illinois Association of School Business Officials, Illinois Association of School Boards, Superintendents’ Commission for the Study of Demographics and Diversity and the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents.

Vision 20/20 aims to develop a long-range plan for improving public education in the state. IBAM originated from one of the four pillars of Vision 20/20, “Shared Accountability,” Roger Eddy said.

Eddy, executive director of the Illinois Association of School Boards, said the point was to diversify accountability in multiple areas.

“Schools are more than one test,” Eddy said. “This allows us to come up with a system for schools to tell their own stories.”

Incorporating the local impact and needs of the school was a key area of concern for the Vision 20/20 team.

“What’s important in rural southern Illinois is not the same as a Chicago suburban school district,” Eddy said.

The new accountability measure will be rolled out in the next five years, Koehl said.

“Locally, what we’ll see is so many of our school districts perform well and have good professional practices,” Koehl said.

Incorporating local needs

Bugg said the Coal City School Board already was internally gauging school performance by incorporating testing data along with the needs of the community.

“We are a strong, blue-collar community,” Bugg said. “To treat every child as they should be going to college is a disservice. Some enter the trades and workforce and they are going to be very successful.”

Bugg said anywhere between 35 and 50 percent of seniors at Coal City High School go into the trades. And many students prep at the Grundy Area Vocational Center.

“Some of those students end up going to college later, but are successful and filling a niche,” Bugg said.

Plainfield School District 202 Superintendent Lane Abrell said IBAM is a step in the right direction, but there was still more that needs to be incorporated to make a better school “mosaic.”

“When looking at the entire picture, you’ve got statistical data,” Abrell said. “But there is also anecdotal data and community reform. Those somehow need to be taken into account.”

Abrell said that the experience of recent graduates also should be considered in the process.

“I think this is going to help clear up a muddy picture,” he said. “But I’d be surprised if this is a final metric.”

Koehl said the IBAM team will be working through issues that might come up over the next five years.

“The important piece of it is that this will be a great measure of schools because it’s a multi-pronged measurement,” Koehl said. “If all prongs work well, then students’ outcomes will improve. If the school is in a good position with its organizational structures it will improve.”

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