• Illinois has proposed a clear rationale for its K-12 goals, with close alignment to its postsecondary attainment goal. In linking the two, the state can bring coherence across multiple systems and ensure that there is shared ownership for students from K-12 to postsecondary education and training.


  • Illinois has clearly sought out and respected the feedback from its stakeholder groups. Throughout its plan, it cites specific feedback as an explanation for why it adopted particular approaches as well as dissenting opinions.


  • In addition, Illinois continues to prioritize academic performance in its accountability system, while keeping open the possibility of an early learning indicator as well as one for fine arts.


  • The state’s unique process for reporting on students who exit special education and English-language learner status is also noteworthy.





  • Illinois’ calculation for student growth is confusing, and by weighting growth twice as much as proficiency, it may over-emphasize growth at the expense of grade-level proficiency.


  • Illinois could also strengthen its plan by developing a more rigorous method for identifying and supporting schools with low-performing subgroups of students.


  • Finally, the state’s proposed intervention system may be insufficient to the task of rehabilitating the state’s lowest-performing schools. The state’s approach to intervention is vague and lacks any real urgency for improvement.


Click through the tabs on the left to see how Illinois scored in each category.



Illinois’ vision clearly drove the development of its ESSA plan.


Illinois has articulated a vision of “whole, healthy children nestled in whole, healthy systems,” and it cites stakeholder buy-in for the vision. The state has also established an overarching goal of having 60 percent of Illinoisans with a high-quality degree or postsecondary credential by 2025.


Illinois identifies long-term goals with high expectations, aligning K-12 and higher ed.


Illinois expects 90 percent of students to meet expectations by 2032 (i.e., third-graders reading on level, fifth-graders proficient in math, ninth-graders on track to graduate, high school graduation/college and career ready). These milestones are intended to align with the state’s postsecondary attainment goal, which is a strong aspiration. An intentional alignment between K-12 and higher education goals should be a model for other states. In addition, Illinois maintains the same goal for all subgroups, which sends a message that the state has high expectations for every student.


Illinois’ long-term goals for its five- and six-year graduation rates are the same as its four-year rate (90 percent). The state could strengthen its plan by setting higher goals for its extended-year rates than its four-year rate


The state has set student-level goals for English-language acquisition.


Illinois articulated a reasonable method for using a growth-to-target model for setting interim student-level goals for English language acquisition. The state is waiting for more current data on English language proficiency, and in the meantime has provided placeholder goals that it plans to update in the near future.



Illinois has clearly defined its standards and assessments.


Illinois adopted the Common Core State Standards in 2010, and Illinois has a high-quality assessment system in grades 3-8 through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC). The state also mentions that it is using the Dynamic Learning Maps-Alternate Assessment for students in grades 3-8 with severe cognitive impairments.


At the high school level, Illinois is using the SAT as its accountability assessment. That choice has pros and cons. While the SAT is familiar to students and families, and it is recognized at colleges all across the country, we don’t yet know whether the SAT is fully aligned to the state’s academic standards. And, without the ability to use accommodations and submit valid scores, some of the key benefits of using the SAT may not extend fully to all students.


The state will include its science assessment in its accountability system.


Although science represents a nominal addition to its accountability system (5 percent beginning in 2019-20), this decision signals schools to pay attention to student performance beyond reading and math.



Illinois’ indicators are logical, strongly research-based and actionable.


Illinois has chosen a logical set of indicators to include in its accountability system (academic proficiency, growth, chronic absenteeism, climate surveys, and English-learner proficiency) as well as an on-track indicator for ninth-graders (based on their accumulated credits and grades).


Overall, Illinois’ system emphasizes academic performance, with 75 percent of the weight placed on academic proficiency and growth. In fact, 50 percent of Illinois’ system is based on academic growth. However, the calculation for growth is not well-defined in grades 3-8, and academic growth in high school cannot be determined with the state’s current assessments.


At the high school level, Illinois could strengthen its plan by placing a stronger emphasis on the four-year graduation rate. As currently drafted, the state’s plan appears to use an aggregate graduation rate composed of the average of the four-, five-, and six-year rates, which would inflate graduation rates and dilute the value of completing in four years.


Moreover, Illinois is exploring the addition of a fine arts indicator, which seems to align with the state’s desire to educate the “whole child.” The weight of this indicator, which will be based on the percentage of students enrolled in a fine arts course, will be determined when more data are available.


Illinois incorporates both college and career readiness into its high school system.


It provides multiple opportunities for students to demonstrate their readiness for college and careers, such as course-taking, assessments, and co-curricular experiences, and its emphasis on all students engaging in college and career opportunities should be commended and replicated by other states. However, it can be improved by providing greater detail about the definition of “quality” for the “career” measures and placing greater emphasis on externally validated measures (i.e., exams) over course grades.


The state’s plan could also provide more information about its pathway endorsement and college remedial coursework measures. As data become available, the state should analyze the extent to which students who met the benchmarks ultimately enrolled and demonstrated success in postsecondary education and training.


Illinois proposes a lower weight for the English language proficiency indicator compared to other states.


Illinois is proposing to weight the English-language proficiency indicator at 5 percent, which is lower than other states. However, Illinois specifically notes that it will include all K–12 English-language learners in this indicator, which is an innovative idea. It goes beyond ESSA’s requirement, which only asks states to use English language proficiency scores from grades 3–8 and once in high school.


Illinois has also proposed two additional school-quality indicators for the elementary level.


Notably, Illinois deserves credit for considering an indicator focused on pre-k through second grade, reflecting the state’s desire to recognize the importance of early learning.


While these are all potentially promising individually, the state needs to be cautious about incorporating too many indicators. In fact, the state’s plan is already lacking in evidence that its proposed indicators provide uniquely valuable information on school performance, and it could be strengthened by adding that additional information.



Illinois’ plan heavily emphasizes student growth.


The state has given growth a weight of 50 percent of the total (the largest single weighting of any measure). And although assessments are not yet available at the secondary level, Illinois deserves credit for aspiring to maintain an emphasis on growth in the high school grades as well.


However, the state should be careful not to place too much emphasis on growth. The state is proposing to weight growth twice as much as proficiency, and in future years it may count student proficiency at only 7.5 percent in each content area. This approach may take away emphasis on grade-level performance and be hard to convey to the public.


In addition, the state’s plan lacks detail around the specific method it plans to use to calculate student growth.



Illinois’ plan safeguards against student subgroups being hidden under averages or summative grades.


Illinois has proposed a strong policy that a school may not receive the top two designations (exemplary or commendable) if it has a consistently underperforming subgroup. However, without data, there is concern that the state’s definition of “consistently underperforming” subgroups may set a very low bar. Because it focuses only on groups performing at the bottom 5 percent of the state, schools may continue to maintain significant gaps, so long as subgroup performance does not fall below the bottom 5 percent.


Illinois proposes a strategy to identify separate subgroups of former students with disabilities and former English language learners and report on their progress. 


Including these individuals – in addition to current students with disabilities and ELLs –  as their own group will allow educators and policymakers to easily see how those students perform after they are no longer receiving services.


Illinois’ n-sizes are appropriate but participation rate requirements are concerning.


The state’s n-size for reporting (10) and accountability (20) are appropriate for balancing the needs of privacy and transparency, but the plan’s approach to the 95 percent participation requirement is concerning, as it only limits schools being rated in the top category (i.e., the top 10 percent of schools in the state) and to those that miss the target for three consecutive years.



Illinois’ proposed school classification system is potentially misleading. 


The state may want to work with parent stakeholder groups to make sure its proposed color-coding system aligns with school performance levels.


Additionally, the state proposes rating schools on either a single year of data or a three-year rolling average (whichever is higher), which will create an artificial floor for schools and give schools only the benefit of positive results without the consequences of any downswings.


Illinois’ identification of schools with consistently underperforming students only meets the bare-minimum requirement.


The state’s identification of schools with consistently underperforming students is limited to schools with a subgroup performing at the bottom 5 percent. Illinois should consider developing an additional definition of “consistently underperforming” subgroup and identify/support these schools as well. Also, it is unclear what designation would be given to schools that do not receive Title I funding, and what, if any, support will be provided.


Finally, Illinois’ plan would be much stronger if it actually modeled out what its choices would mean for schools using existing data (until three years of data are available). Illinois won’t know whether it is accomplishing its desired objectives until it starts applying its decisions to actual data.



Illinois’ plan to support schools hinges on the IL-Empower system.


The state plans to approve external providers and the prices they can charge schools, but it’s not exactly clear how the state will determine if low-performing schools are choosing interventions that are truly evidence-based. The state’s plan provides very little detail about its needs assessment/equity audit tool, approach for ensuring evidence-based practices, or plan for intervening in schools that do not demonstrate adequate improvement.


In particular, Illinois’ use of IL-Empower also appears problematic for several reasons:


  • Schools that use it will need to self-identify areas for improvement even though these schools would seem to be the least likely to have the wherewithal to do so.
  • Schools have four years to improve (i.e., a planning year plus three years for implementation), which was a stakeholder recommendation.
  • Under IL-Empower, schools and districts (i.e., “exemplary” and “commendable”) are eligible to serve as providers and receive funding to do so. This could be promising, but it raises a host of logistical issues.


Notably, Illinois states that a “lowest performing” school would not be able to remain in the network indefinitely. The state would then work with the school to identify any necessary supports or resources, but the plan does not identify any specific actions that schools would be required to pursue or approaches that have proved to be effective in the past. The state would do well to beef up its approach with its most distressed schools.


Illinois will issue its school improvement funds through a formula.


The state appears to be planning to issue all of its money for school-improvement funds – 7 percent of its Title I funding – through a formula rather than running a competition to identify the most promising district plans. In addition, Illinois should consider using the 3 percent Direct Student Services set-aside to reinforce school-improvement efforts.

Exiting Improvement Status


Illinois has defined three areas of focus within its exit criteria.


However, the lack of specifics within two of these criteria is a cause for concern. Another point of concern is that the plan indicates the criteria are “proposed” and potentially still in development.


The first criterion is that schools would simply no longer have to be identified for the list. This may not be sufficient to demonstrate real, sustained progress. By failing to identify numeric targets in advance, the state is not providing schools with sufficient information about what they need to do in order to demonstrate satisfactory progress.


The state should be commended for proposing a requirement that schools develop a sustainability plan prior to exiting their identification status, although this language is still somewhat vague.


In addition, the state should be commended for requiring a growth trajectory as part of the state’s exit status. For this to be effective, it is necessary for the state to set specific targets and timelines in advance.

Continuous Improvement


Illinois will monitor implementation and make changes accordingly.


Its plan to add new indicators into its accountability system over time suggests a commitment to continuous improvement, as does its plan to monitor specific indicators already included in the system (specifically the way it will be measuring student growth).


Illinois is committed to seeking stakeholder feedback and continuous improvement.


It might be helpful to develop some sort of overarching stakeholder group that provides feedback and helps the state make decisions on the impact of the accountability system on school, district, and classroom practice at regular intervals as the system is implemented.


While Illinois’ plan describes its support for local efforts at continuous improvement, it is heavy on state monitoring and light on concrete tactics. If IL-Empower does not lead to school improvements, the state did not identify any other strategies for supporting low-performing schools.

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