Results of an annual 5Essentials survey show that in the 2017-18 school year, School District 65 declined in four of the five areas deemed critical for school success. The survey is administered under the auspices of the Illinois State Board of Education.

“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 Officer of Accountability, Equity, and Organizational Development, in an Aug. 20 memo to the School Board.

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.

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 District’s five-year strategic plan, adopted by the School Board in March 2015, is organized around the 5Essentials.

Participation in the Survey

Mr. Godard’s memo said there was “excellent participation” in the survey by District 65 teachers and sixth- through eighth-graders. The teacher response rate was higher than 86% in all schools, except King Arts which had a response rate of 63%. The student response rate was higher than 87% in all schools, except of King Arts, which had a response rate of 27%.

Teachers’ responses are primarily used in assessing effective leaders, collaborative teachers, and involved families. Students’ responses are primarily used in assessing ambitious instruction and supportive environment. 

What the Scores Mean

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.

D65’s Essential Scores

District 65’s scores declined in four of the five essentials in the 2017-2018 school year. The decline between school years 2016-17 and 2017-2018 was as follows: Effective Leaders – from a score of 45 to 43; Collaborative Teachers – from 45 to 43; Involved Families – from 63 to 58; and Supportive Environment – from 52 to 47.  

The District is below the baseline average for the State (i.e. a score of 50) in three of the five essentials: Effective Leaders, Collaborative Teachers, and Supportive Environment.

The one area where the District improved was Ambitious Instruction, where the District improved from 60 to 63.

The chart below shows the trends in the 5Essential scores during the last five years.

Scores on the Underlying Subcategories 

Each of the five essentials has subcategories (referred to as measures). For example, there are four subcategories that go into assessing whether a school has ambitious instruction: math instruction, English instruction, academic challenge/rigor, and quality of student discussion. 

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 reflects that District 65 received an overall lower score in 13 of the 20 subcategories. The nine subcategories where District 65’s score declined by three or more points are:

• Teacher-Principal Trust – 47-43

• Instructional Leadership – 41-34

• Collective Responsibility – 39-35

• School Commitment – 44-37

• Teacher-Teacher Trust – 46-39

• Teacher-Parent Trust – 67-62

• Parent Influence on Decision Making – 65-56

• Academic Personalism – 57-50

• Safety: – 46-38

The District is below the baseline average score of 50 for the State in 10 of the 20 subcategories.

The District’s high point was math instruction, which received a score of 93. English instruction received a score of 43.

The 5Essential Survey results were provided as an information item in the School Board’s packet of materials for the Aug. 20 meeting. There was no discussion of the results.

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...