On the 2021 5Essentials survey, School District 65 scored higher in each of the five areas deemed critical for school success than it did in 2020.

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

The results also showed that the District moved up in 18 of 20 subcategories, but it still ranks below the state average in 10 of the subcategories. Last year the District moved down in 19 of 20 subcategories.

The survey was administered between January 11 and March 11, 2021. When the survey opened, the District had been closed for in-person learning since March 2020. On January 20 of this year, Superintendent Devon Horton announced that the District would bring many students back for in-person learning starting on February 16, using a hybrid learning model. Parents had the option to stay with a remote-learning path.

The survey closed well before the District returned to in-person learning in the fall, and before teachers staged two protests at the Joseph E. Hill Education Center just before School Board meetings on Sept. 27 , 2021 and Oct. 16, 2021, at which the president of the teachers’ union voiced concerns.

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 November 1 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

Klein and Gonzalez’s memo said there was “excellent participation” in the survey. Overall, 78% of students in grades four to eight responded; 80% of teachers and 25% of parents responded.

The parent response rate was not high enough to be included for Haven and Nichols 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., a 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 Essential Scores

District 65’s scores improved in each of the five essentials in the 2020-2021 school year. The chart below shows the increases for the five essentials between 2020 and 2021.

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

The chart below shows the trends in the 5Essential scores during the last six years. Between 2015 and 2020, scores have dropped in four of the five essentials: 15 points in Ambitious Instruction, 12 points in Collaborative Teachers, four points in Involved Families and four points in Effective Leaders.

Scores have increased during that period in only one category: Supportive Environment, an increase of 15 points.

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 scoring for each of the five essentials.

The memo prepared by Klein and Gonzales says in 2021 the District received higher overall scores in 18 of 20 of the subcategories and a lower score in only two subcategories.  

The biggest jumps were in peer support for academic work (+31points),  student-teacher trust (+21), academic personalism (+14), collective responsibility (+13), English instruction (+13), quality of student discussion (+13) and instructional leadership (+11).

Despite these increases, the District had scores of 50 or less in 10 of the 20 subcategories, meaning that the District scored below the baseline average of the State in 50% of the subcategories.

It ranked in the “More Implementation” range in five subcategories, and ranked in the “Most Implementation” range in only one subcategory.

The District declined in the categories of quality professional development and math instruction. Since 2015, the District’s score in math instruction has declined from a very high score of 97 in 2015 to 66 in 2021.

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

The data also shows the District has declined in 15 of the 20 subcategories since 2015 and increased in five.

Board President comments

As has been customary for the last three years, the 5Essentials survey results memo was provided as an information item at the Board’s November 16 Board meeting, so it was not scheduled for a presentation or for discussion.

Board President Anya Tanyavutti said, though, “The 5Essential data is trending in the right direction, possibly, I think, for the first time I’ve even been on the Board. There continues to be opportunities for us to grow and areas for us to give attention to. Our work is by no means done. But that was exciting to read through.”

Ms. Tanyavutti has served on the Board since 2016.

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...