On Oct. 29, the Illinois State Board of Education released its annual Illinois School Report Card, the comprehensive picture of the academic and financial condition of public schools in the state.
According to this year's data, there's still a large divide between Proviso Math and Science Academy and Provisos East and West, when it comes to a range of benchmarks, including test scores, truancy rates and college readiness — which is consistent with historic patterns.
But the data also indicates that the district's recent focus on equity may be paying off at the margins, particularly when it comes to benchmarks that measure aspects of the school experience, such as truancy and test participation rates, that aren't as quantifiable as test scores.
Last year, the SAT replaced the ACT as the one college entrance exam administered by the state at no cost to high school juniors. The 2017 ISBE report cards show the results of that first year of free SAT testing.
At PMSA, 83 percent of juniors who took the SAT in the 2016-17 academic year met or exceeded state standards. At Proviso East and Proviso West, roughly 8 percent and 11 percent of juniors, respectively, met or exceeded state standards on the SAT.
District-wide, 26 percent of juniors met or exceeded state standards. The percentage of public high school juniors in the state who met or exceeded standards on the SAT last year was around 40 percent.
Although the ACT is no longer the state's main assessment exam, the new school reports also showed the ACT scores of last year's graduating class. Based on their SAT scores, around 84 percent of last year's graduating seniors at PMSA were ready for college coursework. That's compared to roughly 10 percent at Proviso East and around 14 percent at Proviso West.
Since 2013, according to state data, the college readiness rates of graduating seniors at East and West have been largely stagnant while the college readiness rate among seniors at PMSA has increased by nearly 20 percent.
During an interview on Monday, Proviso Townships High School District 209 Supt. Jesse Rodriguez said that the district has responded to the switch to the SAT, which constituted an unfunded state mandate, by repurposing its budget to prepare students for the new assessment.
"We're looking at decoding the SAT so our students can be better prepared and our teachers are better prepared while administering the test," Rodriguez said, adding that last year the district applied the money it saved by closing Ombudsman, an alternative education program that allows students to recover credits, to personalized learning centers at East and West.
Rodriguez said that the learning centers attributed to the notable increase in the percentage of students participating in standardize tests across the district — from 88 percent in 2015-16 to 91 percent in 2016-17.
The increase was most pronounced at Proviso East, where the number of students participating in standardized testing jumped by eight percent. At West, the participation rate decreased by five percent on the math portion of the SAT and 1 percent on the English and language arts (ELA) portion.
The new state data also showed progress in the chronic truancy rate in the district, which is down by a percentage point. The rate has held steady since 2013, when the truancy rate was 46 percent before dropping sharply the following year.
Across the district, the percentage of freshmen on track to graduate climbed four percentage points since 2015-16 to 73 percent in 2016-17. At Proviso East, the percentage of students graduating within four to seven years increased by two percentage points and the total number of students taking early college coursework increased by 1.4 percent.
Rodriguez said that the district has allocated more money to ensure that more students at East and West are taking early college coursework. He said that the district closely monitors the student and teacher attendance rate on a regular basis.
The rate of what the ISBE calls parental contact — which, according to the state, includes "parent-teacher conferences, parental visits to school, school visits to home, telephone conversations, and written correspondence"— was nearly 100 percent at PMSA. At East and West, the parental contact rate was 74 percent and 83 percent, respectively.
Last year, Rodriguez said, the district allocated money to fund parent centers at East and West, along with community schools and translators for families whose first language is not English, in order to bring more parents into the school. The superintendent said that the district's school board also has a "very, very strong" community engagement committee, headed by board member Rodney Alexander, which is working on finding ways to increase parental engagement.