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Every other year, Illinois schools are required by law to administer the 5Essentials survey to parents, teachers, and students. The survey asks questions about five key areas deemed essential to school success in order to gauge strengths and areas in need of improvement.

“The Illinois 5Essentials Survey is based on 20 years of research conducted by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research in more than 400 schools, including Chicago Public Schools, and has been shown to be strongly predictive of school improvement,” says a memo prepared by Pete Bavis,  Assistant Superintendent/Curriculum & Instruction, and  Carrie Levy, Director of Research, Evaluation & Assessment. “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.

“Not all of the questions are relevant to ETHS or a high school structure outside of CPS,” added the memo. “This survey was originally developed in elementary schools and later administered at the high school level.”

While 72% of ETHS teachers and 72% of students completed last year’s survey, only 19% of parents did, reported Dr. Levy to the District 202 Board at its Sept. 11 meeting. Unless parent participation reaches 20%, their responses are not included. The survey, which has been administered three times now since its implementation in 2012, has never had the benefit of parent opinion.

Nevertheless, teacher and student views of the school have remained fairly constant since the last survey in 2014-15, with specific tallies fluctuating some, but with the overall conclusion that ETHS remains at the lower end of the second highest possible level – that ETHS is “organized for improvement.”

In 2013, the first year the survey was offered, the school was rated “partially” organized for improvement.

The ratings include five categories ranging from “not yet” to “partially” to “moderate” to “organized” to “well organized” for improvement.

The five components said to be essential for successful schools, and District 202’s aggregated scores for each component, are:

• Effective Leaders – principals and teachers implement a shared vision for success. ETHS’s score increased from 24 in 2015 to 27 in 2017. 

• Collaborative Teachers – teachers collaborate to promote professional growth. ETHS’s score dropped from 45 to 42.

• Involved Families – the entire staff builds strong external relationships. ETHS’s score dropped from 74 to 73.

• Supportive Environment – the school is safe, demanding, and supportive. ETHS’s score increased from 52 to 58.

• Ambitious Instruction – classes are challenging and engaging. ETHS’s score dropped from 70 to 67.

The scores are based on a scale of 0 to 100, with a score of 50 being at about the average for the State in 2013. See sidebar.

The chart below reflects the scores for the 2013, 2015, and 2017.

Within each component, multiple indicators earn scores based on survey responses, that are averaged to get the overall component score.  Some areas where ratings improved include: quality of professional development, program coherence, teacher-parent and student-teacher trust, and safety.

Responses decreased for some areas including English and math instruction, collaborative practices, parent involvement in school, and teacher-principal trust.

Action Plan

Following a two-day management retreat in June 2015 facilitated by a representative of UChicago Impact, ETHS’s management team analyzed results, identified communication as an area for growth in the data, and drafted an action plan, Ms. Levy told the Board. “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.”

 ETHS’s management team is studying two books that focus on communication techniques: “Brief” (McCormack, 2014) and “Decide and Deliver” (Blenko, Mankins & Rogers, 2010). Tools learned in these books are being implemented this school year. 

Board Response

Board Member Jonathan Baum, looking at the scores on effective leaders, said, “It comes down to communication between the administration and teachers. We also saw this in the communications audit as well. It’s not just how decisions are communicated but how decisions are made. Do you feel like you’ve seen results yet from the action plan, or expect results?”

“In 2013, we got a 13 and now we are at 27 [in that area],” said Dr. Bavis adding, communication is an issue that must be “at the front of our minds.” For the past couple of years on opening day with staff, Principal Marcus Campbell has given “a connect-the-dots kind of talk which is highly rated by staff. It’s opportunities to do things like that which help in that area. This is an issue that needs to be persistent, consistent, and thoughtful.”

“What systems are in place to solicit teacher feedback?” asked Board member Jude Law.

“It depends,” answered Dr. Bavis. Textbook selection, for example, is teacher driven. Teachers also complete many surveys throughout the year on a variety of topics, he said. A new process for curriculum review is being put in place that will “put teacher and student voices front and center.”

Dr. Campbell added that, “with the ratification of the new teacher contracts, we’re coming up with a new structure for teacher-administration communication and feedback. There are 113 committees in the school, so we’re using [the new structure] to help teachers know how to be involved and what committees to go to for information.” 

Board President Pat Savage-Williams asked how to get more parents to take the survey. 

Dr. Levy said that there has been increased outreach, and the District continues to look at new ways to do so. She added that while the District wants to reach the 20% response rate needed to receive the minimum parent feedback, “20% may not be reflective of our population.”

Board member Monique Parsons agreed. “Our interventions need to be creative and thoughtful, going forward, to get a better cross-section of surveys from parents.”

What the Score Means

What the Scores MeanIn 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.