From the Elgin Courier News
By Rafael Guerrero
Elgin-based School District U46 ranks in the top 10 percent, among the nation's largest school districts, in a Stanford University study that looks at how students improve over years.
Elgin-area U46 ranked 20th in student growth over five academic years based on the Stanford study findings, according to an analysis published by The New York Times. In five years, U46 student performance grew by about 5.4 grade levels.
The study looked at the 200 largest school districts in the United States, according to the data.
"For a district like U46, where 28 percent of our students come in knowing a language other than English, (student growth over time) is a better assessment than proficiency data," U46 CEO Tony Sanders said.
According to the data, third-graders in U46 schools tested below the national average. However, by eighth grade, the same group of students saw average scores jump to just above the national average.
The results support Sanders' argument that the academic growth of a student should be looked at beyond proficiency-based assessments, he said. Too often, high-stakes tests looking at proficiency tend to reward more affluent school districts than those socioeconomically disadvantaged. Socioeconomic factors often at play may include poverty, minority population, property wealth, language barriers, among others.
Measuring how students grow academically gets more into an individual level than standardized test scores, which tend to group all the students together. U46 has been looking at multiple measures besides standardized test proficiency rates to gauge how students are doing.
Sanders credits a number of initiatives such as teacher professional development, and the introduction of programs like its dual-language program for the district's success in this study. Dual-language English and Spanish programs — which will be available at elementary, middle and high school levels next school year — began and expanded in the 2008-15 timeframe from which the data came from, he said.
The study, led by Stanford researcher Sean Reardon, separated socioeconomic factors that often influence academic performance inequities and focused only students' academic growth.
In his documentation, Reardon wrote that he analyzed standardized test score data from 45 million students from more than 11,000 school districts. The years-long data looked at the average test score performance of third-grade students, the growth of test scores from third grade to eighth grade and five years of student grades from one grade to the next.
Reardon argued that looking at academic performance through growth measure is a better indicator of school effectiveness. However, he said it would take more than high student growth and school effectiveness to narrow the achievement gap between high- and low-socioeconomic schools.
"The findings also suggest that we could learn a great deal about reducing educational inequality from the (low socioeconomic) communities with high growth rates," he wrote. "They provide, at a minimum, an existence proof of the possibility that even schools in high-poverty communities can be effective."
District spokeswoman Mary Fergus said officials supported the emphasis in looking at academic performance over a number of years, rather than just "a single snapshot in time." She did add, though, that administrators had not yet fully examined the report or analyze Reardon's approach and methods.
Sanders said it is likely district administrators may look more into the study and data once students and staff return to classes this month.