GRADUATE HIGH SCHOOL COLLEGE- AND CAREER-READY
Graduation Rates Increase But ACT Scores Stagnant
The good news is increasing numbers of Illinois students are graduating high school within four years: currently 88% of high schoolers are graduating versus 84% in 2012.18 The graduation rate is increasing for students of all backgrounds, including low-income students and students of color.19 Educators, parents and community members should be commended for coming together to support students in their efforts to earn a diploma.
However, on a key measure of whether students are ready for college—the ACT—only 38% of Illinois high school graduates are scoring as college ready. This figure has not budged since 2012. The gap means too many students are graduating high school but are not college ready.
Higher scores on the ACT correlate with college degrees: students who meet three or more ACT college readiness benchmarks have a better than 75% chance of earning a postsecondary degree.20
Christina Magee tells two stories when asked about the transformation that’s taken place in Rockford high schools in recent years.
“When I took the job at the high school, I asked students ‘What are you going to do after graduating?’” Magee said. “One boy said ‘pilot or EMT.’ Those are two very different fields.”
A student entering college without a career focus could spend years and precious resources on identifying a field. Now when students enter Guilford High School, where Magee is a College and Career Academy Coach after a long career as a middle school teacher, they identify a career pathway in 9th grade.
“The big plus now is that students already have a plan,” Magee said. “We have one student at Rock Valley College who wants to be a music teacher and wants to intern with [Guilford]. Here’s a kid with a clear path who wants to do something with that path. That’s what it’s all about.”
A new approach in Rockford is uniting unlikely stakeholders to solve the complex transition from high school to college. Alignment Rockford, the backbone of a public-private initiative, has the school district in the midst of a dramatic transformation that has gained national recognition. The nonprofit worked with Rockford Public Schools to launch a new approach which emphasizes project-based learning, smaller learning communities, career planning, and input and expertise from the business community. Early indications suggest it has yielded higher attendance rates and less truancy.
The new approach is just one aspect of a collective impact strategy that has brought the community together following a desegregation consent decree in the early 2000s. The Alignment Rockford initiative has the education system in the midst of a dramatic transformation that has gained recognition from across the country and attracted funding from the likes of the Joyce Foundation and Ford Foundation. While Alignment Rockford is the latest in a long list of attempted turnarounds in Rockford, the confluence of business and community interests in the reform plan has invigorated public schools across the community.
“We decided we weren’t going to do little,” said Bob Guirl, a retired executive from UTC Aerospace Systems, and incoming Chair of Alignment Rockford. “Going big and fast got people motivated, and we stuck to it. The key is constancy of purpose, and the longer-term wins will follow.”
Guirl will replace the founding Chair, Rev. K. Edward Copeland, Pastor, New Zion Baptist Church, who was instrumental in the creation of Alignment Rockford and scanned the country for innovative education models in the late 2000s. A visit to Nashville, Tenn., changed the way Rockford approached education.
“We had whiplash,” said Copeland. “Every year was something new and different, and we were still dealing with the residual effects of the consent decree. There was mistrust with the business community. People asked ‘Are you really here to help?’”
Nashville’s principles focused on having a “backbone” organization and unlikely stakeholders utilizing shared data to solve the complex problems of education. A similar approach was later popularized in a Stanford Social Innovation Review article as the “collective impact model.” While it will still be a few years before Rockford has college statistics for its first cohort of academy 9th graders, Alignment “What makes it work is not just shared measurement and a backbone organization,” Copeland said. “Alignment gets sharks swimming together. It’s religious, education, industry and community people who wouldn’t [normally] come together. And we say to the school district, ‘We’re not going to critique,’ and that makes a difference.”
At the core of the changes in Rockford are college and career "academies," formatted as schools within schools that span business, engineering, human and public services and health sciences, and align high school courses with postsecondary expectations. At Guilford High School’s Engineering, Manufacturing, Industrial and Trades Technology (EMITT) academy, for example, English, math and social studies incorporate project-based concepts from real-world engineering and manufacturing. Students interested in professional degress and certificate programs work side-by-side in classes such as Construction I, held in the school's construction and fabrication lab. The school had done away with a similar industrial arts lab years ago, only to bring it back as the community recognized that hands-on learning had value in preparing all students for life after high school. Projects include building a home for a Habitat for Humanity project.
"One of the biggest challenges, and it's more profound now because of technology, is student engagement," said Rick Elston, a 9th grade history teacher. "We have to get that hook, get interested in what you're doing in high school and that it's leading to something."
Students also regularly participate in tours of local colleges and businesses, and the district is beginning to explore dual credit with local colleges to ease the transition from 12th grade to college. Further, every 9th grader attends a citywide Academy Expo to help determine their high school academy. Preparation for the expo includes basic advice for networking like shaking hands and looking people in the eye. The expo brings together 140 careers from participating businesses, 3,000 students and 900 volunteers.
"At the expo, you learn that you don’t have to go to San Francisco to be part of a tech firm," said Jack Snedegar, an 11th grader in the Business, Arts, Modern World Languages and Information Technology (BAMIT) academy at Guilford.
Copeland, Guirl and Alignment Rockford Executive Director Bridget French say that the school district is spending approximately the same amount of money as it has in years past. Alignment Rockford's budget is approximately $300,000, from a mix of school district and private funds. Non-financial steps have led to Rockford's biggest gains.
"We identified the desired end and work backward," said Copeland. "We're leveraging inherent, nascent resources in the community. We didn't need as much new money as a new way of thinking." Alignment Rockford has the backing of community and school district leaders, as well as local elected officials, higher education and the teachers union. It's newest initiative, Ready Set Kindergarten, promotes the healthy social, emotional and physical development of children from birth to 5 years old. Like other initiatives, the project is managed and monitored by a group of volunteers spanning organizations and sectors.
"The community is helping drive the ship," said Magee. "It's the first time in my 23 years as educator that I felt it was not just the administration. This is intentional long-term planning to say to our community that we will never leave. We want kids to have what they need to be successful in the world."
Business leaders, schools and community partners working together to improve student outcomes in seven regions of the state, have joined a network to learn from each other and share their successes. The Illinois 60 by 25 Network addresses the challenge of degree completion, filling a shortage of skilled labor and prioritizing educational backgrounds that are in demand locally. The network serves as a model for other communities seeking bold changes to their education systems. For more information, including regional community and workforce data for each 60 by 25 Network Leadership Community, visit the 60 by 25 Network Leadership Community Dashboards.
Are students entering high school ready?
|2016||2014||2011||2006||Leading State||Leading State's
|IL Rank||Rank Change||White||Black||Latino||Low-Income|
|44||Freshmen on track to graduate high school||82%||87%|
Do high schoolers have access to rigorous coursework?
|2015||2013||2009||2005||Leading State||Leading State's Performance||IL Rank||Rank Change||White||Black||Latino||Low-Income|
|29A||HS seniors taking an AP exam||38%||32%||25%||33%||28%||42%|
|29B||HS seniors successful on at least one AP exam||25%||21%||16%||25%||8%||24%|
|30||HS students taking Dual Credit courses||8%||8%||7%||71%||7%||12%|
|31||Students taking a college-ready curriculum (student-reported)||52%||53%||52%||MI ;SD||73% ;88%||12/13 ;29/30||0||59%||45%||47%|
|31A||HS students (10-12 grade) taking advanced coursework (AP, IB, Dual Credit)||35%||45%|
|31B||HS seniors taking advanced coursework (AP, IB, Dual Credit)||50%||47%|
|32||HS teachers with degrees in taught field||Pending||86%||92%||MN||88%||4/45|
Are students completing high school college ready?
|2015||2013||2010||2005||Leading State||Leading State's Performance||IL Rank||Rank Change||White||Black||Latino||Low-Income|
|26A||High school graduation rate (4-year)||86%||83%||82%||80%||IA||90.80%||23||0||90%||76%||81%||78%|
|27A||% High school graduates college-ready in 4 ACT areas||26%||25%||IL;MN||26%; 39%||1/13;9/30||0;0||37%||6%||13%||11%|
|27B||% High school graduates college-ready in 3+ ACT areas||38%||37%||CO;MN||39%; 54%||2/13;10/30||-1;-1||52%||12%||22%||20%|
|2016||2014||2012||2006||Leading State||Leading State's Performance||IL Rank||Rank Change||White||Black||Lation||Low-Income|
|26B||High school graduation rate (5-year)||88%||88%||84%||91%||79%||84%||82%|
For more information, including a snapshot of every school in Illinois, visit the Illinois School Report Card.