The results of the annual 5Essentials survey show that in the 2019-2020 school year, School District 65 scored lower in each of the five areas deemed critical for school success than it did in the prior school year.

The District scored in the “Less Implementation” range in two areas:  Effective Leaders and Collaborative Teachers. It scored in the “Average Implementation” range for the other three areas: Ambitious Instruction, Supportive Environment, or Involved Families.

The results also showed that the District moved down in 19 of 20 subcategories.

The survey was completed before the pandemic struck so the shift to remote learning in mid-March did not impact the survey results.

The survey was administered under the auspices of the Illinois State Board of Education.

The 5Essentials for School Success

“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 Kylie Klein, District 65’s Director of Research, Accountability & Data, and Cindy Gonzalez, Assessment Data Analyst, in a Nov. 12 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 at least three 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:

• 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, was organized around the 5Essentials.

Participation in the Survey

Ms. Klein’s and Ms. Gonzalez’s memo said there was “excellent participation” in the survey. Overall, 88% of students in grades four to eight responded; 76% of teachers responded; and 33% of parents responded.

The parent response rate was not high enough to be included for the middle schools. Data from the parent survey is supplemental and does not factor into the main 5Essentials measures.

Teachers’ responses are primarily used in assessing the categories 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 each of the five essentials in the 2019-2020 school year.

In two of the 5Essentials, the District moved down from the range of “Average Implementation” in 2019 to “Less Implementation” in 2020. The District dropped in the following two essentials:

  • ·       Effective Leaders: score dropped from 46 in 2019 to 39 in 2020
  • ·       Collaborative Teachers: score dropped from 40 in 2019 to 34 in 2020

In the other three essential areas, the District’s scores fell, but the scores remained high enough to stay in the range “Average Implementation.” The three elements and the drop in District 65’s scores between 2019 and 2020 are reported below:

  • ·       Ambitious Instruction: score dropped from 58 in 2019 to 50 in 2020
  • ·       Supportive Environment: score dropped from 54 in 2019 to 48 in 2020
  • ·       Involved Families: score dropped from 59 in 2019 to 56 in 2020

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

The above chart shows the trends in the 5Essential scores during the last six years. Between 2015 and 2019, scores have dropped by a significant amount in four of the five essentials: 21 points in Ambitious Instruction; 19 points in Collaborative Teachers; 11 points in Involved Families; and 9 points in Effective Leaders.

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. They are: 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.

The memo prepared by Ms. Klein and Ms. Gonzales says the District received lower overall scores in 19 of 20 of the subcategories and a higher score in only one subcategory.

The District had scores of 50 or less in 15 of the 20 subcategories, meaning that the District scored below the baseline average of the State in 75% of the subcategories.

The District had 5 had scores at or below 39 in 5 of the subcategories which put in the “Less Implementation” range for those subcategories. The District had scores between 40 and 45 in another 9 subcategories, meaning that it fell at the bottom level of “Average Implementation” ranking for those 9 subcategories.

There were only 2 subcategories in which the District’s scores fell into the “More Implementation” range. They were: “parent influence on decision making” had a score of 60; and “math instruction” had a score of 73.

The District did not score in the Most Implementation category for any subcategory.

The chart below shows District 65’s scores for each of the 20 subcategories on the 2020 5Essential Survey.

The data also shows that in the last six years, the District has declined by 10 or more points (a half-standard deviation) in 14 of the 20 subcategories.

One Question and Answers

The 5Essentials survey results memo was provided as an information item at the Board’s Nov. 16 Board meeting, so it was not scheduled for a presentation or for discussion. Board President Anya Tanyavutti said, though, “These data were discouraging,” referring to the low score in educators’ perception of trust, perception of opportunities to collaborate, perceptions of instructional leadership. “And that was prior to the pandemic,” she said.

Mr. Tanyavutti asked administrators, “How are you incorporating that information into our practices as a District?”

Ms. Klein said the score of 26 for “collective responsibility” is an area of concern.” She said she thought the formation of Professional Learning Communities which is underway in the schools would “create that sense of shared accountability and shared responsibility for student outcome data. I think it holds a lot of promise.”

She added, “I think that that will also strengthen instructional practice which will hopefully help educators deal with the complexity of these times, you know, between the unprecedented shift of this global pandemic, the surge in incidents involving the horrific murders of Black Americans in communities. I think that people are experiencing a lot of stress and strain. And educators are not isolated from the strain of their profession. I think as a community, we need to support and attend to everyone’s needs. I’m really grateful for all of the people in District 65, who are so committed to ensuring success. As Rebeca [Mendoza] mentioned earlier, our school wellness team is offering supports for educators. I think we’re trying to approach this from all angles.”

Dr. Devon Horton, who took over as Superintendent after the survey was completed, said a lot of work was being done to attract and retain quality staff. And part of that effort is to build the capacity of teachers to recruit other teachers to the District that are like minded. He added that it was important to find ways to eliminate things that teachers are no longer responsible for. He said it was important “as we shift and have these new expectations that we give them a clear path of how to eliminate and move forward.”

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...