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Leading the way

Eastland, Sterling, Oregon lead local schools in media academics ranking, but are those rankings indicative of actual school success?

Eastland High School in Lanark may be small in size, but it’s mighty in academics among the rest of Illinois’ public high schools.

That’s how the data lined up in U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 state and national rankings of high schools, released April 30. 

At 145th out of 647, Eastland is among the top 25% of the high schools ranked in the report.

Schools are scored out of a weighted value of 100, representing 30% college readiness, 20% reading and math proficiency and 20% performance in those subjects, and 10% each in college curriculum breadth, underserved student performance and graduation rate.

Sterling High School was 210th, with Oregon High School not far behind at 213th; they are among the top 33.3% of schools.

The rigor of Advanced Placement exams have much to do with the success at Eastland, and other schools. It’s one of many recent investments Eastland has made to improve academics, along with standards-based learning and grading, and its summer credit recovery and intervention programs, Superintendent Mark Hansen said.

“We encourage many students to take these courses because of strong evidence that even students who do not earn a score of 3 or higher demonstrate an increased likelihood of success after high school compared to students who enrolled instead in dual credit or similar courses.”

The ranking process was overhauled after last year’s report. The awarding of gold, silver or bronze statuses among top schools has ceased. U.S. News collects rankings from the U.S. Department of Education’s Common Core of Data, 2016-17 math and reading level assessment tests and graduation rates, The College Board for Advanced Placement data, and International Baccalaureate.

“It’s all much more all-encompassing now,” Sterling Principal Jason Austin said. “I really feel it’s a better indicator of what schools are doing. It’s much more inclusive than just test scores. 

“Even though they don’t have gold, silver and bronze anymore and just doing it by ranking, it’s a great thing to recognize the hard work of all of our teachers.”

Eastland students amassed a 43% efficiency rate in reading and 33% in math in 2016-17. 

However, dated results and a limited focus doesn’t quite make their rankings gospel in the grand scheme of things. 

“It is my opinion that rankings are not a reliable indicator of whether one school is better than another, any more than a class ranking is a reliable indicator that one student is better than another,” Hansen said. “When rankings are used in this manner, it is my belief that they are misused, and do more harm than good.”

Oregon Superintendent Tom Mahoney agreed. Academics are one of four “pillars” of success among his district’s mission statement to be “lifelong learners who are productive and responsible citizens.”

”I’m always very cautious from this standpoint: Let’s say 2 years from now, we have the greatest group of artists that have never walked our halls come through,” Mahoney said. “They’re strong still in math and language arts. That necessarily wouldn’t reflect here, but that group of kids could do as much, or more, than any group we’ve ever had.”

Data previously was compiled from just state math and reading tests, performance from economically disadvantaged and minority students, graduation rate and college readiness. 

Boosting Sterling’s rating was a 48% passage rate of students taking at least one AP exam in 2016-17; Oregon had 43% pass at least one exam.

“The research is really clear,” Mahoney said. “Even if a kid can’t pass the [AP] exam, going through the rigor of the course actually helps them become better academically for college.”

At Sterling, 47% of students last year took one of 18 AP courses, Austin said. Only about 10% took one exam in 2007, and nearly 25% in 2014.

“Our job [as administrators] is to support the teachers and give them the tools that they need to be successful,” Austin said, “and then allow them to be creative in the classroom and make a difference in students’ lives.”

How schools rank

................... RANK ...... SCORE

Eastland......145............75.06

Sterling........210............61.98

Oregon........213............61.60

Polo.............218............60.17

Morrison......246............53.18

Fulton..........249............52.63

Dixon...........287............43.89

W. Carroll....350............33.61

AFC.............406............27.73

Rock Falls...428............25.24

* Amboy, Erie, Milledgeville and Prophetstown high schools did not rank among the top 75% in Illinois.

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