Five District 65 schools ranked top 100 by Chicago Sun-Times

Rebecca Schechner, Reporter

The majority of Evanston/Skokie District 65 schools landed in the top 10 percent in the Chicago Sun-Times’ annual ranking of Illinois public schools.

Five schools were ranked in the top 100: Dewey Elementary, Willard Elementary, Orrington Elementary, Haven Middle and Dr. Bessie Rhodes Magnet School.

“We attribute the continued success in our district to a number of things,” said district spokeswoman Pat Markham. “It begins with the idea that instruction is tailored to meet the needs of each student in the classroom. That’s the foundation of our instructional improvement initiative.”

The Sun-Times bases its rankings on average scores on state achievement tests rather than the percentage of students who met and exceeded state standards.

“Our school board established goals in 2011 that tie back to this,” Markham said. “They talk about our district in terms of scale scores and they compare the district’s average scale scores to those of the state, so that kind of ups the game from when we previously were looking at the percent of students who met state standards.”

Orrington Elementary School was ranked 33 out of 2,202 elementary schools statewide. Principal Renaud Beaudoin said he was not surprised by the school’s high spot on the list.

“We have a really great school and we think the Sun-Times got it correct,” Beaudoin said. “We have students who are highly motivated, as well as parents who have high expectations for our school and teachers who meet those expectations.”

Though he is pleased with Orrington’s rank, Beaudoin said he recognizes the limitations of standardized testing.

The variation in rankings among District 65 schools can be ascribed most heavily to socio-economic differences, said Vicky Vye, vice president of Dr. Bessie Rhodes Magnet School’s PTA.

“Money does help a school,” Vye said. “There are divisions among schools because there are divisions among economic cultures. And of course, kids need attention and so level of parent involvement is important too.”

In addition to rank, the Sun-Times determined whether or not a school met Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP. The conditions for meeting AYP are set on a yearly basis to ensure that Illinois schools adhere to the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that all public schools have 100 percent of tested students meet state standards in reading and math by 2014.

Despite their top 100 rankings, Willard Elementary School and Haven Middle School were deemed not to have met AYP requirements.

“It’s important to look at the state of Illinois and the number of districts that did not meet AYP requirements this year,” Markham said. “This is not an anomaly in District 65; this is something that happens all across the state and across the country, too.”

The Sun-Times rankings only bolster District 65’s strong concentration on improving achievement levels, Markham said.

“To know that all of our schools are at least in the top half of schools in the state is something important,” she said. “We serve more than 7,000 students, and we’re now looking at putting a lot more focus on how to improve instruction to help these students become even more successful.”