It took an incredible amount of trust for DeKalb’s Tyler Elementary School to move out of academic trouble and become one of the most improved schools across the state, Principal Andria Mitchell said.
District 428’s Tyler Elementary School and District 429’s Hinckley-Big Rock High School were added to the 2013 Illinois Honor Roll for academic improvement by the state of Illinois, which this year honored 125 schools for substantial improvement in math and reading.
“We totally changed up how we were supporting our students and using specialists,” Mitchell said, “and it worked.”
The state honors schools annually based on state standardized tests scores from the previous years and demographic information. Northern Illinois University started the program in 2003, and releases it in conjunction with the Illinois State Board of Education.
The 2013 Illinois Honor Roll includes 177 schools from 99 public school districts in Illinois. The Honor Roll is divided into three categories – spotlight schools, academic excellence and academic improvement.
Tyler Elementary was a choice school the past two years. Choice schools are those where parents could choose to send their child to another school because test scores did not meet standards.
Mitchell said she dug into test data to find the school’s challenges and embraced them. She added weekly collaboration time for staff to review student data, changing the way resource teachers and literacy tutors are used and overall changing the culture of the school to focus on working together.
“They see me in the trenches with them,” Mitchell said. “We value each other as a team in everything we do.”
Hinckley-Big Rock wasn’t facing similar academic issues; the school had made adequate yearly progress for years leading up to last year. But H-BR Principal Jay Brickman said the school wasn’t satisfied with simply hitting the mark.
“While we weren’t in trouble, we weren’t satisfied with students simply making that,” Brickman said.
To boost academic performance, teachers made slight adjustments to the way the curriculum was taught to include more reading and writing in all classrooms. Brickman said the focus on literacy, regardless of whether the class is a science or a humanities course, was behind the school’s success.
“It’s important for our students to make sense of the reasons they’re studying what they’re studying,” Brickman said. “We wanted them to be able to speak about what they know and write about what they know.”
The list of Illinois Honor Roll schools is available online at www.ilhonorroll.niu.edu/