ISBE Banner
State of Illinois - Governor Blagojevich 

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


October 23, 2003

Seven Illinois public schools step into spotlight
for making the grade

Rock Island, Ill. — The Illinois State Board of Education today gave "Spotlight School" recognition to seven public schools that have achieved high academic performance in an environment in which a majority of students come from low-income families.

The "Spotlight Schools" - which were presented with plaques at today's meeting of the State Board - are:

  • Berrian School, Quincy District 172
  • Blackhawk Elementary, Freeport District 145
  • Dewey Elementary, Quincy District 172
  • Earl Hanson Elementary, Rock Island District 41
  • Harding Primary, Monmouth District 38
  • Washington Elementary, Quincy District 172
  • Whittier Primary, Peoria District 150

"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 seven schools are among Illinois schools where a majority of students come from low-income families, and in which 60 per cent or more of students passed rigorous state tests in 2003. A total of 26 such schools statewide met the "Adequate Yearly Progress" standards imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind initiative as well as the state's accountability system, and have been named "Spotlight Schools." The full list of 26 will be released later this week.

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 per cent, 4 per cent and 3 per cent respectively.

Meanwhile, numbers at schools with more affluent students often are quite opposite.
While just 40 per cent of Illinois third-graders from low-income families meet state standards, 75 per cent 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 26 Spotlight Schools have beaten the odds, however, proving the gap can be closed. Four criteria were used to determine which schools are making the grade:

  • 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 per cent participation rate in state assessments for all students and for each subgroup, at least 40 per cent of students meeting and exceeding standards in both reading and mathematics, and an attendance rate of at least 88 per cent for elementary and middle schools and 65 per cent for high schools.

Schools that specifically serve gifted and talented students, that restrict admission or whose students must pass a proficiency test for admission are not eligible for Spotlight Schools awards.

The common characteristics of high-poverty, high-performing schools, according to NIU's Center for Governmental Studies, are these:

  • 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.

Additional information on Spotlight Schools is available at

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