ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

  ECS  |  CeRTS  |  IWAS | Teachers  | Students  | Administrators   | Student Assessment  | IL Learning Standards  | Programs | FormsGlossary


For Immediate Release
November 17, 2003

Five eastern Illinois public schools step into spotlight for making the grade

Charleston, Ill. — The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) today gave “Spotlight School” recognition to five central and eastern Illinois public schools that have achieved high academic performance in an environment in which a majority of students come from low-income families.

State Superintendent of Education Robert E. Schiller presented plaques to each of the “Spotlight Schools” during a special reception at Eastern Illinois University in Charleston. The five schools recognized are:

  • East Richland Elementary, Olney
  • Michael Baum Elementary, Decatur
  • St. Marie Elementary, St. Marie, Jasper County
  • Petty Elementary, Sumner, Lawrence County
  • Willow Hill Elementary, Willow Hill, Jasper County

“We are extremely pleased to be able to honor these schools,” said Robert E. Schiller, State Superintendent of Education. “Each of them shows that students at any grade level and in a challenging economic environment can be motivated to learn and, more importantly, to achieve.”

The five schools are among Illinois schools where a majority of students come from low-income families, and in which 60 percent or more of students passed rigorous state tests in 2003. The schools are part of a total of 27 “Spotlight Schools” identified statewide. In addition to meeting specific student demographic criteria, the “Spotlight Schools” have met the “Adequate Yearly Progress” standards imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind initiative and the state’s accountability system.

“The accomplishments of these schools demonstrate that high-poverty schools can bridge the well-documented “achievement gap” between high-income and low-income students, and between students of color and their white and other peers,” Schiller said.

The Spotlight Schools awards are a joint effort between ISBE and Northern Illinois University, which has researched high-poverty, high-performance schools.

“There are not many Spotlight Schools,” NIU President John Peters said, “but their significance is monumental. Our research at NIU has identified 10 commonalities among high-poverty, high-performing schools. Given the importance of their accomplishments, these schools deserve close attention from scholars and dedicated support from all of us interested in raising student achievement.”

Marilyn McConachie, director of the Spotlight Schools Project for NIU Outreach, said recognition of the Spotlight Schools should inspire other educators to believe that they can truly make a difference in helping all children reach high expectations.

“The conventional wisdom is that low-income students provide an excuse for low performance,” McConachie said. “What we have here are schools that disprove conventional wisdom. For them, demographics are not destiny. Their students are extraordinarily more successful than students at comparable schools. What they’re doing is special, and they deserve to be praised.”

The extraordinary accomplishments of the Spotlight Schools are thrown into relief by NIU statistics that, unfortunately, paint a bleak picture.

Nearly 38 per cent of the 2.1 million children in Illinois come from low-income families. Percentages of achievement drawn from low-income schools can dwell in the bottom quarter. At one high-poverty high school, only 17 per cent of students met reading standards while the percentages of student meeting math, writing and science standards were 7 percent, 4 percent and 3 percent respectively.

Meanwhile, numbers at schools with more affluent students often are quite opposite.

While just 40 percent of Illinois third-graders from low-income families meet state standards, 75 percent of their peers do. Merely 20 per cent of low-income high school juniors meet math standards, a number that more than triples to 65 per cent in schools with more affluent students.

The 27 Spotlight Schools have beaten the odds, however, proving the gap can be closed. Four criteria were used to determine the “Spotlight School” designation:

  • At least 50 percent low-income students in 2002 and 2003
  • At least 50 percent of students meet or exceed state standards in reading and math in 2002.
  • At least 60 percent of students meet or exceed state standards in reading and math in 2003.
  • “Adequate yearly progress,” as prescribed by No Child Left Behind, was made in 2003. This includes a 95 percent participation rate in state assessments for all students and for each subgroup, at least 40 percent of students meeting and exceeding standards in both reading and mathematics, and an attendance rate of at least 88 percent for elementary and middle schools and 65 percent for high schools.

The common characteristics of high-poverty, high-performing schools, according to NIU’s Center for Governmental Studies, include:

  • Strong leaders who advocate high expectations for all students.
  • Emphasis on early literacy and intervention for struggling readers.
  • Exceptional teachers.
  • More academic learning time.
  • Extensive parental involvement.
  • Regular use of data to drive instructional decisions.
  • An internal capacity for accountability.
  • High quality, school-based professional development.
  • Ready access to early childhood education programs.
  • Attention to health and safety needs of students.

Illinois State Board of Education
100 North First Street
Springfield, IL 62777