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On Dec. 1, Maria Allison, chief strategy officer, and Alex Seeskin, a doctoral education resident at UChicago Impact, presented District-wide results on the 5Essential Survey and what the District, the schools and UChicago Impact were doing to help school leaders to dig into the data and to focus on areas where their schools can grow or improve.

Mr. Seeskin said researchers with the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago followed hundreds of schools in the City of Chicago for 20 years to see what essential characteristics led schools to improve. They found there are five essential components for school success:

• Ambitious instruction – classes are challenging and engaging;

• Effective leaders – principals and teachers implement a shared vision for success;

• Collaborative teachers – teachers collaborate to promote professional growth;

• Involved families – the entire staff builds strong external relationships; and,

• Supportive Environment – the school is safe, demanding and supportive.

The researchers found that schools that measured strong in three or more of the five essentials were 10 times more likely to improve student achievement than schools weak in three of more of the essentials.

The Illinois State Board of Education has retained UChicago Impact at the University of Chicago to administer the 5Essentials survey to students (grades 6-12) and to teachers to gather information on how each school and each school district in the State is doing in terms of implementing the five essentials. 

The first survey was given in 2013 and the second in 2014.

Paul Goren, superintendent of District 65, said the District has entered into a partnership with colleagues at UChicago Impact to provide supports in using and analyzing the survey data and in developing strategies on how to best use it to improve outcomes for students.

District 65’s Survey Results

At the Dec. 1 Board meeting, Dr. Allison presented the survey results for District 65 as a whole, which she said was an average of the individual school results. The accompanying article on page 23 provides the survey results for each of District 65’s schools, together with some background on scoring, which is on a scale of 1-99.  The benchmark – a score of 50 – is based on the 2013 State average. Scores are broken into five categories: least (0-19), less (20-39), average (40-59), more (60-79) and most (80-99) implementation.

On an overall basis, Dr. Allison said, the District’s strengths are ambitious instruction, involved families and collaborative teachers. The District received a score of 68 for ambitious instruction and 61 for involved families, which placed it into the second highest category, “more implementation.”

She said administrators included “collaborative teachers” as a strength, even though the score was 51, which placed it in the middle category, “average implementation.” They did so because the score improved from 44 in 2013 to 51 in 2014. “We saw a lot of growth in that essential from last year to this year,” she said.

Dr. Allison said the essentials, “effective leadership” and “supportive environment” had scores of 52 and 53 respectively, and were in the category “average implementation.” She added, though, they are areas “where we can grow more.”

The accompanying chart shows the scores for each of the five essentials for the District for 2013 and 2014. Overall, Dr. Allison said, “56% of District 65 schools are organized for improvement.”


[Scoring Categories: 80-99 – Most implementation; 60-79 – More implementation; 40-59 – Average implementation; 20-39 – Less implementation; 0-19 – Least implementation]


The survey also gathered information on 22 measures of school climate and practice, which are grouped into the five essentials. Dr. Allison listed four measures on which the District is strong:

• Math instruction – the District scored 95 in 2013 and 96 in 2014. This was the only measure that the District scored in the highest category, “most implementation.”

• Student discussion – scores of 68 (2013) and 71 (2014).

• Parent-teacher trust – scores of 69 (2013) and 65 (2014).

• Parent involvement – score jumped from 50 in 2013 to 65 in 2014.

Dr. Allison also identified four areas for growth:

• Collective responsibility – score increased from 35 to 42.

• Instructional leadership – scores of 43 (2013) and 47 (2014).

• Principal-teacher trust – scores of 41 (2013) and 47 (2014).

• Academic personalism – scores dropped from 59 (2013) to 48 (2014).

Using the Survey Data

District 65 has been working with UChicago Impact to train principals and school leaders on how to use the data. In addition, five schools, Nichols, Oakton, Willard, Lincoln and Dewey, volunteered to participate in a more intensive project.

Dr. Allison said every principal has participated in two or three workshops on how to analyze the data and understand it better. The District wants educators around the table to discuss “what might we do to turn this around,” she said.

 “We’ve worked twice so far with all of the principals in the District doing sessions around root causalities and connections to try to understand how the data can be used a little bit more at the school level to drive school-level strategic planning,” said Mr. Seeskin.

Mr. Seeskin also explained, “We’re doing a deep dive with five schools … Those school principals, assistant principals and members of the instructional leadership team are participating in four professional development sessions. Two in late October and early November focused on strengths and identifying areas for growth from the data. Today, we had the third session on action and communication planning.”

In the next five weeks, he said, those schools will be implementing some of the actions that they planned in the third session, and they will meet with UChicago Impact representatives again in February to see how things are going and to make adjustments to their strategies based upon the data that they will be collecting over the next few months.

 In the summer, UChicago Impact will review the 2015 5Essential Survey data not only for those five schools, but also the District as a whole.

Dr. Allison said the goal with the five schools is to build capacity and a set of resources, “so every year when this data comes out we have a process and structure in place to support schools on engaging in the types of fruitful conversations around the data that will carry through the year.”

Dr. Seeskin said UChicago Impact has been getting “great information” through the partnership that they will be able to use in developing professional development programs for school districts throughout the State. He said the five schools in the project are each different, they are choosing different essentials and different measures to focus on, and they are choosing different strategies to address concerns.

“I think there’s going to be a lot of rich learning at the end of the year about which schools decided to do which things in response to which data, and hopefully we will be able to tease out some of the learning that we can then make applicable, as Maria said, to everyone,” said Mr. Seeskin.

Board President Tracy Quattrocki asked about building trust between principals and teachers, and Board member Omar Brown asked if districtwide coaching could be used to help principals build trust. 

Mr. Seeskin said they are focusing on this in the working sessions, using a tight set of norms and protocols. John Price, assistant superintendent of schools, added that principals have also been reading texts on this issue.

Dr. Goren added that the lessons learned from the five-school project may assist in developing district-wide coaching on building trust. “We see this as a process of continual improvement,” he said.