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Illinois' school accountability plan focuses on equity and academic growth

School Illustration
File | Illustration by Rici Hoffarth | St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Radio

Updated April 4 with plan officially submitted —

Illinois education officials met the federal government’s first deadline for submitting its plan to measure how well schools are educating students.

The Illinois State Board of Education sent its Every Student Succeeds Act state plan to the U.S. Department of Education on Monday. The plan was approved by its governing board last month.

The Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, was enacted in 2015 and replaces No Child Left Behind, which had been law since 2001. The new framework for education policy nationwide puts much more power for measuring school accountability back into state’s hands.

Illinois’ adaptation of the law will focus more on student growth, rather than simply how well they score on state exams, state Superintendent Tony Smith said Tuesday.

“We heard loud and clear that growth needed to be a major part of this accountability system,” he said. “And if fact, in Illinois, it is fully worth 50 percent of our accountability system.”

Missouri’s education department told St. Louis Public Radio it will submit its plan at the second deadline, which is in September, to allow time for state standards to be revised.

Ryan Delaney contributed.

Original story from March 19:

In its new state plan to hold elementary and secondary schools accountable, the Illinois State Board of Education is taking an about face from the strict grade-level standards that were the hallmark of the old federal education law, No Child Left Behind.

The plan approved Wednesday by the state board of education gives academic growth twice as much weight as academic proficiency. That means schools will get a lot of credit for helping students catch up.

State Superintendent Tony Smith said the focus on growth will help Illinois close its racial and economic achievement gaps, a call heard over and over while the state was collecting public comment on the plan.

“People said ‘It has to not be punitive. It has to help. It has to help us learn how to do this work better. And it has to be fair. It has to start from a place where it doesn’t punish people just because they’re from a low-income district or have not had resources,’ ” Smith said.

As required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced No Child Left Behind in 2015, Illinois’ plan sets long-term goals, determines how it will measure those goals, and creates a system to identify and support schools that need improvement.

Long-term goals

By 2032, Illinois wants:

  • All kindergartners tested for “readiness”
  • At least 90 percent of third graders reading “at or above grade level”
  • At least 90 percent of fifth graders “meeting or exceeding expectations” in math
  • At least 90 percent of ninth graders “on track to graduate” on time
  • At least 90 percent of high school graduates “ready for college and career”

Illinois also wants at least 60 percent of residents to hold a “high-quality degree or postsecondary credential” by 2025.
Accountability measurements

Illinois’ plan still gives a lot of weight (75 percent) to standardized tests and graduation rates, but the way the standardized tests are measured in preschool through eighth grade has changed.

Instead of rating schools mostly on the number of students testing on grade level, two-thirds of an elementary school’s academic points will come from how much students test scores improve over the year before.

High schools get points from their graduation rate instead of academic growth.

The remaining 25 percent of a school’s points come from “school quality indicators,” including attendance rates and surveys.

Ranking and funding

Based on those measurements, Illinois schools are ranked into four tiers. Those tiers single out schools based on their ability to prepare students from historically low-performing groups, including black and Latino students, students with disabilities, and English language learners.

Schools in the top two tiers are eligible to receive funding to help schools in the bottom two tiers improve.


States are required to submit school accountability plans to the U.S. Department of Education this year as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal education law that replaced No Child Left Behind in 2015.

Smith said Illinois is submitting the plan to the U.S. Department of Education by its first deadline, April 3, so the state can receive final approval before next school year.

Sarah Potter, a spokesperson for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, said Missouri is waiting until September to submit its plan.

Potter said the state is holding off on submitting its plan because officials are currently revising the existing state standards, known as the Missouri School Improvement Plan.

Follow Camille on Twitter: @cmpcamille.

An earlier version of the story referred to the state education agency as the Illinois Department of Education. Like the nine-member board that heads the agency, it is named the Illinois State Board of Education.