Results of an annual 5Essentials survey show that in the 2015-16 school year, School District 65 declined in all five areas deemed essential for schools to be effective.

“The 5Essentials survey provides a comprehensive picture of a school’s organizational culture through student and teacher responses to questions designed to measure five ‘essentials’ critical for school success,” said Peter Godard, Chief of Research, Assessment and Data at District 65, in a Nov. 14 memo to the School Board.

The District’s five-year strategic plan is organized around the 5Essentials.

Background on the 5Essentials

The 5Essentials survey is based on a 20-year study of more than 400 schools in Chicago. Researchers at the University of Chicago found that schools that measured strong in three or more of the five essentials were 10 times more likely to improve student achievement in reading and math than schools weak in three or more of the essentials.

“Those differences remained true even after controlling for student and school characteristics, including poverty, race, gender, and neighborhood characteristics,” said Mr. Godard,  “Strength on components within the Essentials also correlated with increased teacher retention, student attendance, college enrollment, and high school graduation.”

The five essentials, which form the framework of the 5Essentials Survey, are as follows:

• 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.

• Supportive Environment: The school is safe, demanding and supportive.

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

Mr. Godard’s memo also said there was “excellent participation” in the survey by District 65 students and teachers.  Overall, 92% of both students (grades 6-8) and teachers responded.

Scores on Each of the 5Essentials

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.

District 65’s scores declined in each of the five essentials. The decline between school years 2013-15 and 2015-16 was as follows: effective leaders – from a score of 48 to 45; collaborative teachers – from 53 to 47; involved families – from 67 to 65; supportive environment – from 50 to 44; and ambitious instruction – from 71 to 67.

The accompanying chart shows the trends in the 5Essential scores during the last four years.

Scores on the Underlying Subcategories 

Each of the five essentials has subcategories (referred to as measures). For example, students are asked a series of questions relating to “math instruction,” which is one of the subcategories for determining the essential element “ambitious instruction.” The four subcategories that go into assessing whether a school has ambitious instruction are math instruction, English instruction, academic challenge/rigor, and quality of student discussion. 

There are between three and five subcategories for each of the five essentials, and a total of 20 subcategories. The 5Essential Survey provides a score for each subcategory, which is determined in a way similar to the determining the score for each of the five essentials.

Mr. Godard’s memo says District 65 received on overall lower score on 18 of the 20 subcategories in 2016 than in 2015. The measures where the score declined by five or more points are instructional leadership; quality professional development, collaborative practices, parent influence on decision making, peer support for academic work, academic personalism, safety, student-teacher trust, academic press, English instruction, and math instruction.

 Mr. Godard said, “I advise using caution in interpreting small changes in scores to indicate a large change in the concept being measured.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...