After an extensive study, researchers at the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) identified five essential components of organization and climate related to school improvement.

These five essentials form the framework of the 5Essentials Survey:

• 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.

CCSR reports that data from more than 650 Chicago public schools, both elementary and high school, show these measures “predict many aspects of student and school success, before and after controlling for school type, demographic composition, test scores and socio-economic status.”

The data further showed that “schools strong in 3-5 Essentials were 10 times more likely to improve student learning substantially compared to schools weak in 3-5 Essentials.” And that these differences among schools remain even “even after controlling for student and school characteristics, including poverty, race, gender, and neighborhood characteristics,” according to a memo prepared by Pete Bavis, Assistant Superintendent at Evanston Township High School and Carrie Levy,  Director of Research, Evaluation & Assessment at the school. .

The Overall Picture

In general, ETHS students’ responses about the school gave higher ranking than did those given by the teachers. In the category of Ambitious Instruction, ETHS’s scores were positive but lower than in 2016-17. They were higher in the Supportive Environment category.

This year, the ranking was higher in the Effective Leaders category was higher than in prior years, but even so did not make the average benchmark in that category. Conversely, in the Involved Families category, the school slipped a few points but still retained a high ranking.

ETHS’s overall ranking in the survey was “Organized.”

The State of Illinois mandates that the 5Essentials Organizing Schools for Improvement Survey administered annually. 

Between November 2018 and January 2019, Evanston Township High School administrators asked students, parents and teachers to take the survey. All students were eligible to take the survey; UChicago sent reminders to teachers to participate, and both the school also sent reminders via email and social media.

Participation at ETHS was 76% for students, 74% for teachers and 18% for parents, each lower than the Statewide average. At 18%, the parental response to the survey was too low for the school to receive that data. 

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.

ETHS Scores

ETHS received the following scores on the 5Essentials survey:

Ambitious Instruction, student response, 65, down from 67 in 2016-17 and from 70 in 2014-15

Effective Leaders, teacher response, 28, up from 27 in 2016-17 and from 24 in 2014-15

Collaborative Teachers, teacher response, 41, down from 42 in 2016-17 2016-17 and 45 in 2014-15

Supportive Environment, student response, 60, up from 58 in 2016-17 and from 52 in 2014-15

Involved Families, teacher response, 71, down from 73 in 2016-17 and from 74 in 2014-15

In the Effective Leaders category, in which the school received the poorest – but for the most part improved – scores, the breakdown of responses in the subcategories, which were given by ETHS teachers is below:

Leadership Team Instructional Leadership, 28, up from 27 in 2016-17 and from 19 in 2014-15

Program Coherence, 21, down from 22 in 2016-17 but up from 15 in 2014-15

Teacher-Principal Trust, 41, up from 37 in 2016-17 and the same as in 2014-15

Teacher Influence, 20, down from 22 in 2016-17 and from 21 in 2014-15

Board Discussion

Dr. Bavis and Dr. Levy presented their report at the Sept. 16 School Board meeting. Board members focused for the most part on the low response from parents and the low score from the teachers about leadership at the school.

Board Vice President Monique Parsons said, “I want to lift up the fact that the response about ‘Invested Families’ is from teachers, but we lack the data for [response from] parents. What have we done and what did we do last year to increase response from parents?”

Dr. Levy said, “We started our campaign early. We had multiple communications – emails, on our website, through social media.”

Ms. Parsons suggested having the survey available at times when parents are in the school, such as at sport games.

Assistant Superintendent/Principal Marcus Campbell said there were tables at the school during parent conferences.

“This as been a really difficult things for high schools to do – most high schools don’t [receive the necessary 20% parental responses]. Many elementary schools do. The benchmark was lowered from 30% to 20%,” said Dr. Bavis.

Board member Stephanie Teterycz said, “As a parent who did not respond, I think it would help to have something that stands out from all the other emails – a graphic or something to explain why its important and how the data is used.” She suggested talking to the Communications Department to work on this idea.

Dr. Bavis said, “New Trier, Niles West, Niles North, Highland Park – not a single one was able to get to that benchmark.”

Board member Jude Laude asked if there would be a way for parents to take the survey at the school. He noted that some of the groups in the school are “underperforming groups.”

“That’s essential,” said Dr. Bavis. “If we isolate race and economics – we would need to be sure the 20% or the 25% represents our community.”

Dr. Levy said the survey was available in the school’s Welcome Center.

Board member Pat Maunsell echoed Ms. Parson’s suggestion of having the survey available at athletic events. She also asked about the response to the “Effective Leadership” section and what it means for teachers.

Dr. Bavis said, “Some of the questions [on the survey] continue to be problematic.” He said noted that the questions were weighted. He also said he felt some were not designed well for high school, such as knowing how discretionary funds were spent.

Board member pressed Dr. Bavis and Dr. Campbell about the responses to the “Effective Leadership” portion of the survey.

Board member Gretchen Livingston said, “Given all this information, I think the important thing is what are you going to take away [from this], and, as leaders, to try to improve on and to tweak the performance to do better in categories where we can do better? It looks like there is room for improvement even in categories where we have a relatively good score.”

Dr. Bavis said, “I think one thing we have talked about is triangulating the data with other surveys and information that we have to see how they fit and where they differ, to really inform our practices moving forward.”

Dr. Campbell said, “This is one piece of the whole, and so that’s just one comment to kind of get us started and how we look at this and take the feedback and what we plan to do, moving forward. But it’s something that informs how we move forward with our leadership as well as in instruction and other areas that are reflected here.”

Ms. Livingston asked, “What is the primary things for you – what’s your take-away when you look at this?”

Dr. Bavis said, “One of the things I’d like to look at is the collaborative practices for teachers. It’s at 50 [“Average”]. I think that can feed into our leadership category, and we can use that with teachers who are looking into curriculum review. We’ll not only see growth in collaboration we’ll probably see growth in the leadership piece.”

“Well., more consistent growth,” said Ms. Livingston, because it looks like in 2015-16 it was 58 then down to 46 then back up to 50 [this time]. It would be nice to see more of a clear.

“Yes,” said Dr. Bavis. “More ‘More’ than ‘Average.’”

Dr Levy also noted that the survey assessed “Supplemental Measures” that were not any of the five “essentials.” She said in the Student Well Being category the student responses were “More” for students treating each other with respect, parents supporting their children, teachers connecting with students and supporting their academic goals, students coming from a safe environment and feeling included in their school’s community.

In two categories, the students’ responses showed “Average.” Each of these dealt with how students feel about how they treat each other. The “Average” responses were to students’ encountering very little crime, violence or bullying at school; and students’ having the skills to nurture positive and respectful relations with others.

The next 5Essentials survey will open in December, Dr. Levy said.

Mary Gavin is the founder of the Evanston RoundTable. After 23 years as its publisher and manager, she helped transition the RoundTable to nonprofit status in 2021. She continues to write, edit, mentor...