Results of a survey used to measure Illinois schools’ organization and climate show that Evanston Township High School has grown two levels since the inaugural survey was given in 2012-13, improving across all five areas analyzed. “In 2014-15, ETHS was considered ‘Organized for Improvement,’” said a memo prepared by Pete Bavis, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, and Carrie Levy, director of research, evaluation and assessment.
“ETHS is considered strong in the areas of Ambitious Instruction and Involved Families and average in the areas of Collaborative Teachers and Supportive Environment,” continued the memo. “ETHS performance in the area of Effective Leaders was given a weaker rating.”
ETHS’s management team identified communication as an area that can be improved. “If the management team improves the quality of its communication to staff, then we will improve measures that contribute to the Effective Leaders domain of the 5Essentials Survey,” said the memo.
The 5Essentials Survey
“The Illinois 5Essentials Survey is based on 20 years of research conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CSSR) in more than 400 schools, including Chicago Public Schools, and has been shown to be strongly predictive of school improvement,” said the memo by Drs. Bavis and Levy. “Schools strong in three to five of the essentials are 10 times more likely to improve student learning than schools weak in three to five of the essentials. Those differences remain true even after controlling for student and school characteristics, including poverty, race, gender, and neighborhood characteristics.”
The research defines five essential components of organization and climate related to school improvement: 1) Effective Leaders – principals and teachers implement a shared vision for success, 2) Collaborative Teachers – teachers collaborate to promote professional growth, 3) Involved Families – the entire staff builds strong external relationships, 4) Supportive Environment – the school is safe, demanding, and supportive, and 5) Ambitious Instruction – classes are challenging and engaging.
ETHS made a “significant leap,” Dr. Bavis said, by being recognized as “organized for improvement,” a two-step advancement from previous results which indicated ETHS was “partially organized for improvement.” These results “put us ahead of Illinois and similar schools,” said Dr. Bavis.
In the survey, each school is given an Essential Score for each of the five essentials. The Illinois State Board of Education defines an Essential Score as “a summary indicator that describes the school’s performance on each particular essential.” The scores are reported on a scale of 1-99, where every 20 points is exactly one standard deviation wide, and the benchmark (i.e., the score of 50) is the 2013 Illinois state average by type of school (e.g., K-5, K-8, 6-8 or 9-12).
The scores are thus norm-based and reflect how a school is doing in terms of implementing each of the five essentials in relation to all other schools in the State that have the same grade configuration. The scoring categories are:
• 0 to 19: Least Implementation;
• 20 to 39: Less Implementation;
• 40 to 59: Average Implementation;
• 60 to 79: More Implementation;
• 80 to 100: Most Implementation.
ETHS scored highest on the Ambitious Instruction and Involved Families components, with scores of 70 and 74 respectively. Supportive Environment was next scoring 52, then Collaborative Teachers at 45. Effective Leaders showed “less implementation,” with a score of 24 and will be the focus of future improvement efforts. (See the chart for a comparison of components scores.)
“It’s important to note that when we first did the survey, it was a transition year; it was Marcus Campbell’s first year as principal,” said Dr. Bavis. “So I think of this as the new baseline.”
Moving forward, ETHS has partnered with UChicago Impact to create an action plan based on the survey data. Management teams are doing research and developing strategies focusing on communication which falls under the Effective Leaders domain, the area identified as needing most improvement.
Between January 20, 2015 and March 13, 2015 students, teachers and parents were asked to participate in the survey. The rate of response for ETHS students was 72%, down from 84% in 2012-13. Teacher responses increased from 75% to 82% in the most recent survey. The rate of response for parents remained at 17%.
Only schools that reached a 30% response from parents received survey data from ISBE analyzing parent responses, and therefore the ETHS survey report does not include parent responses. Despite this, ETHS’s response rates are all higher than the overall average response rate for Illinois.
The survey identifies a “fairly narrow problem”, said Board member Jonathan Baum. The report “echoes what we got in the communication survey,” that teachers do not feel a part of the decision making process. “It’s great to see we are working directly on that,” he added.
Mr. Baum also pointed out the “irony” that the survey results show, that “we do well at involving families, yet we didn’t have enough response” from families to include their survey responses.
“We are not unique in that,” said Dr. Bavis. The results are “really the perceptions of staff.”
That’s a “tough nut to crack”, said Dr. Levy. “We reached out more this year” and the results “threshold” was dropped. Parents received letters, emails and phone alerts asking them to take the online survey. Access to computers was made available to parents during parent conference days to allow parents another opportunity to take the survey. “We will keep trying to work on that and look for more opportunities,” she said.