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Year-round classes lift Lindblom

Principal Alan Mather Robert Lindblom Math   Science Academy 6130 S. Wolcott. The school has jumped 64 ranks landed

Principal Alan Mather of the Robert Lindblom Math & Science Academy 6130 S. Wolcott. The school has jumped 64 ranks and landed at No. 43 statewide for its junior-year reading and math scores after a series of reforms. October 27, 2011 I Brian Jackson~Sun-

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Updated: October 30, 2012 4:27PM

Chicago Public Schools gained two high schools among the state’s 100 top-scoring ones this year, bringing the system’s total to seven.

Powerhouse New Trier Township High continued its run as the highest-scoring neighborhood high school in Illinois, with only three selective enrollment schools, all in Chicago, scoring higher.

And nine suburban districts, led by Hinsdale District 181, hit a grand slam, placing all of their elementary- and middle-grade programs among the state’s 100 top-scoring ones.

Those are some of the results of the annual Chicago Sun-Times analysis of reading and math scores from the 2011 Illinois Standards Achievement Tests for third- through eighth-graders and the Prairie State Achievement Exam for high school juniors. Public school students took both mandated tests this past spring; their results were released statewide Monday.

The Sun-Times analysis is based on average scores racked up at each school, not the percent of students who “passed” their tests by meeting a certain cutoff. The state’s ISAT cutoffs have come under increasing criticism for being too low, with a recent study by the University of Chicago’s Consortium on Chicago School Research indicating that average scores are a better way to get a handle on a school’s performance than percent passing.

The results emerge as, over all, the percent of students passing ISATs increased a solid 1.1 percentage point, to 82 percent, while the percent of juniors passing the generally tougher Prairie State — which includes the ACT college admission test — tumbled 2.5 percentage points, to little more than half of all students passing.

The Prairie State dip, state officials said, followed new rules requiring that even academically weak juniors take the test — a move that added up to 12,500 test-takers.

Two-thirds of schools failed to make increasingly difficult federal progress targets under the No Child Left Behind law. This year, to hit the target, 85 percent of a school’s students — and subgroups such as special education or low-income students — had to pass their tests.

Chicago inched toward having half its schools under the most serious level of sanction, called “restructuring implementation,” for missing progress targets for at least six years. Almost 44 percent of CPS schools and 10 percent of all schools statewide fell into that category.

State officials announced they would be taking up the feds on the chance to seek a waiver from sanctions for not making progress targets. By 2014, noted State Board of Education chairman Gery Chico, “They [federal officials] expect 100 percent of your student body to attain level. That’s just not going to happen. You don’t want to put something out there that’s unattainable.’’

Meanwhile, the state’s graduation rate toppled four full percentage points, to 83.8 percent. State officials blamed the tumble on a new federally-mandated formula that, for the first time in Illinois, tracks actual students over four years rather than comparing the number of freshmen four years ago to this year’s number of seniors.

Top college preps

On the good-news front, Chicago Public Schools contributed seven of nine elite “selective enrollment” schools, all with test admission standards, to the top-100 high school list: No. 1 Northside College Prep; No. 2 Young Magnet; No. 3 Payton College Prep; No. 9 Jones College Prep; No. 20 Lane Tech; No. 43 Lindblom and No. 76 Brooks College Prep, which holds the most low-income kids (85 percent) among the top 100 high schools.

Lindblom Principal Alan Mather attributed his school’s jump from No. 107 last year to No. 43 this year to a series of reforms “spearheaded by an amazing faculty’’ over the last three or so years.

That includes Lindblom’s decision to become the first CPS non-charter high school to switch to a year-round calendar. The Englewood school holds 70 percent low-income kids and “summer learning loss is a huge issue with children in poverty,’’ Mather said.

Another factor may be changing the focus of Wednesday “colloquium” days – which several college preps use for boutique electives — to a day of mostly academic or college-going support classes. Now, any Lindblom student who receives lower than a C in any course — or anyone who wants extra help — is put in a Wednesday “colloquium support’’ class.

At the other end of the spectrum, every Lindblom Advanced Placement student takes an AP colloquium support class. The extra time and attention better prepares them for national AP exams, which can translate into college credit, Mather said.

For struggling students, support colloquiums nurture “habits of mind that help students with what it takes to be in a really rigorous setting,’’ Mather said. But in addition, “Most of the students getting Bs and Cs choose to take them. It gives them extra time with their teachers. They are high achievers and they want to keep their grades up.’’

Suburban rank jumper

After Lindblom, Cary-Grove Community High saw the biggest jump in rank among the six-county’s top 50 high schools. It soared from No. 82 statewide last year to No. 40 this year.

Cary-Grove Principal Jay Sargeant credited a “phenomenal staff that tries to intervene at every opportunity with kids who are struggling.’’

For the last four years, those interventions have included “guided study halls’’ that place struggling students in daily study halls of only eight to 15 students, overseen by one teacher, instead of the usual 60 to 110-student study hall, overseen by one or two teachers.

In the more intimate guided study hall, the teacher makes sure that each student stays organized, completes homework and is on track preparing for tests.

Over the school year, “Kids gradually get acclimated to the organizational things they’ve learned and get weaned out of [guided study hall],” Sargeant said.

Clean sweeps

Grand-slam districts with 100 percent of their schools making the Sun-Times top 100 list, based on elementary and middle grade performance, included Hinsdale District 181, with nine schools; Deerfield District 109 with six schools; and Buffalo Grove’s Aptakisic-Tripp District 102, River Forest District 90 and Northbrook-Glenview District 30, each with three schools.

Placing both an elementary and middle-school in the top 100 were Wilmette’s Avoca District 37, Glencoe District 35, Oak Brook’s Butler District 53 and Lincolnshire-Prairieview District 103.

The clean-sweep districts are among the most affluent in the state. Of them, Avoca 37, headquartered in pricey Wilmette, holds the most low-income kids, a mere 7.6 percent. Even so, that’s an increase from 1.9 percent in 2006.

A dour economy has affected residents even in Avoca, leading some relatives with families to share digs and some parents with kids to move in with their parents, said Avoca Supt. Kevin Jauch.

Jauch attributed the district’s success to a “professional community model” that allows teams of same-grade teachers to meet daily to analyze data from district-purchased Measures of Academic Progress tests, share instructional strategies, and “see who is getting the best bang for the buck.’’

For parents, Jauch said, a big draw is the district’s “extended day” kindergarten, which runs from 9 am to 2 pm. Kindergarteners start a little later than first-graders and end a bit sooner, but enjoy the same enrichments, such as physical education, music, art and technology classes.

“At the beginning of the school year, my kindergarten students are exhausted. ... Parents tell me they are ready to take a nap,’’ Jauch said. “But by the end of the year, they have built up the endurance for a regular school day.”

Dominating the bottom

This year’s charter school test results were once again muddied by the state’s inability to produce scores by campus. Only test scores by charter operator, which can reflect several campuses of varying performance folded into one score, were available, but the State Board of Education is expected to release campus-by-campus scores by the end of the year.

“We want the [campus-by-campus] data shared. We are all about transparency,” said Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools. “This isn’t rocket science. A lot of states have done this already.”

Because of its sheer size and numerous test-based schools, Chicago grabbed the largest number of schools on the top 100 list, but its percent of schools in the top ranks was low. Only 3 percent of Chicago public schools with elementary grades, 6 percent with middle grades and 6.5 percent with high school grades fell within the top 100 ranks.

Chicago — with 86 percent low-income students — clearly dominated the bottom 100, claiming 68 of the bottom 100 high school spots alone.

That included two high schools “turned around” three years ago, starting in 2008, when juniors tested in 2011 were freshmen — Orr Academy High School, operated by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, and Harper High. However, both schools saw their percent passing since their turnaround increase from the single-digit range to 10 or 11 percent. Chicago’s overall PSAE percent passing was 28.3 percent.

Eight Chicago charter operators were among 11 charter operators to make the bottom 100 high school list. No charter operator made the top 100 high school or elementary list, although one — Prairie Crossing in Grayslake — made the top 100 middle-grades list, at No. 48. The highest-ranking Chicago high school charter operator was multi-campus Noble Street, at No. 278 — a huge jump from up from 397 last year.

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