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Education researchers give District 205 improving marks

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Education researchers give District 205 improving marks

The Rockford School District always is at the center of any conversation about Transforming Rockford.

The most recent Illinois State Board of Education data, which is from the 2015-2016, showed that just 19 percent of its students were ready for the next level, meaning they met or exceeded state standards on the annual PARCC tests. The state average for 2015-2016 was 34 percent.

A recent media report highlighted the fact that District 205 has become highly segregated again since eliminating a controlled-choice system in favor of school zones and laid much of the blame on the district’s poor test scores on school zones. Education Cities, a nonprofit network of 30 organizations in 25 cities working to increase the number of great schools in the United States, actually gives District 205 a slightly above average grade and believes the quality of education in the district has been steadily rising throughout the decade.

According to Education Cities (www.educationequalityindex.org), in the 2014-2015 school year, District 205 earned an EEI score of 52.9 with 50.0 being the benchmark for average. The EEI – Education Equality Index – score is a very convoluted ranking where Education Cities looked at the percent of students that score at or above state tests and weighs it with its percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-priced lunches.

The vast majority of educational research shows the strongest correlation to test scores isn’t with race, instead it’s with income. A district comprised of mostly middle- and upper-class students is going to outperform a school of lower-income students regardless of race.

That’s why it’s not statistically valid to compare Rockford with any other school district in Boone, Winnebago, Ogle or even Stephenson County. Over the past 45 years, Rockford has become one of the poorest school districts in the state. According to Education Cities, in the state of Illinois only Chicago with 86 percent of its students qualifying for free and reduced-price lunches was higher than Rockford’s 84 percent.

Education Equality Index scores

District

EEI Score

FRL Pct.

Joliet, Ill.

65.7

83%

Chicago, Ill.

58.6

86%

Elgin, Ill.

52.9

74%

Rockford, Ill.

52.5

84%

Naperville, Ill.

52.4

17%

Springfield, Ill.

44.6

71%

Aurora, Ill.

41.0

61%

Peoria, Ill.

29.2

72%

·        * FRL means “free and reduced-priced lunch”

Seeing Rockford ranked above Naperville will be a shock for most people. According to ISBE numbers, 65 percent of Naperville’s students were at or above state standards. But only 17 percent of Naperville’s students qualified for free or reduced-price lunches. What Education Cities essentially is saying is that based upon the wealth of the students in Naperville, their PARCC scores should be higher.

Perhaps even more importantly, Rockford’s EEI scores have been steadily improving.

Five-year
EEI trend

District

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

Joliet

49.1

51.7

49.5

44.6

65.7

Chicago

56.5

60.3

55.7

59.1

58.6

Elgin

43.3

45.1

46.6

44.8

52.9

Rockford

38.9

39.9

45.2

46.1

52.5

Naperville

34.3

30.3

31.9

38.3

52.4

Springfield

36.7

33.3

38.1

42.2

44.6

Aurora

31.5

35.5

35.3

36.6

41.0

Peoria

43.6

33.8

40.1

37.6

29.2

If you dig deeper into the data by looking at individual schools, at first glance, you see some correlations between race and scores. The top two schools in Rockford were Washington Gifted School and Marshall Middle School, which also had the highest percentage of white students at 68 and 58 percent respectively. Those also house the gifted programs in Rockford and have markedly fewer poor students. The FRL percentage of Washington was just 31 percent and 45 percent at Marshall. Those two schools ranked among the top 60 nationally in terms of EEI scores at 99.7 and 99.5.

The first zoned school on the list was Thompson Elementary with an EEI score of 78.3. Thompson was 50 percent white in 2014-2015, while African-American and students of two or more races made up 24 percent of the district.

Gregory Elementary was next with EEI score of 68.7. Its racial makeup was 40 percent Caucasian, 18 percent African-American, 15 percent Asian and 7 percent two or more races.

Swan Hillman though was fifth on the list with an EEI score of 64.1 and just 18 percent of its student-body was Caucasian and 55 percent was Hispanic.

Amongst the 23 schools that had an EEI score of above 50 – the benchmark – six had higher percentages of black students than white students: Barbour Two-Way Language Immersion Magnet, Galapagos Rockford Charter School, Kishwaukee Elementary, West Middle School, Legacy Academy and Conklin Elementary.

If you add in the students of two or more races, then the number of schools where African-American students outnumbered the white students jumps to 10: Swan Hillman, Nelson Elementary, RESA and Whitehead Elementary.

At the other end of the spectrum, of the 10 schools with the lowest EEI scores, five had the highest percentage of African-American students. Again though the scores tracked most strongly with income. Eight of the 10 schools on the bottom 10 had student populations where 98 or 99 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced-priced lunches.

This is a long-winded explanation that suggests it isn’t the racial makeup of the district or of particular schools that is holding down test scores, it’s the fact that so many middle- and upper-income families have left the district. Of course, this doesn’t mean District 205 doesn’t have its problems. Afterall, Education Cities is saying Rockford Public Schools is doing an average job of educating its students. Transform Rockford’s goal is to make the area one of the 25 best places to live in the country.

Looking at the Education Cities data, that means we should be striving to learn from cities such as Brownsville, Texas, which earned an EEI score of 79.9 even with a population where 94 percent of their students received free or reduced-priced lunches, or El Monte, California, which got a 65.8 EEI score even with a FRL percentage of 93 percent.


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