QUINCY -- A report by the Center for Urban Education Leadership at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that Quincy Public Schools students in grades 3-8 score better than the state average on standardized achievement tests among central Illinois school districts despite having a higher low-income enrollment.
"We're running into a situation where we're seeing how devastating family income can be on a whole variety of factors that impacts what kids walk in the door with every day and that, of course, we have to respond to," said Paul Zavitokovsky, a leadership coach/assessment specialist with the center, to the Curriculum Committee on Monday night.
"At least a few districts, 15 to 20 percent of districts statewide, are beating these odds pretty dramatically. You in Quincy are beating those socioeconomic odds. Others are beating them by a bigger amount, but the fact of the matter is you are doing things right now that are helping you beat those odds."
Back in 2001, the report showed that 59 percent of Quincy students scored at or above statewide medians in composite math with a 39 percent low-income enrollment compared with 55 percent across central Illinois districts with an average 22 percent low-income enrollment.
By 2016, Quincy's low-income enrollment had climbed to 57 percent, with 45 percent of students scoring at or above statewide medians -- still higher than most districts with comparable low-income enrollments -- while central Illinois districts reported 43 percent low-income enrollments, with 49 percent of students scoring at or above statewide medians.
Achievement in central Illinois districts, those located between Interstate 80 and Interstate 70, often declined when compared to statewide norms when low-income enrollments increased, the report said.
Also helpful, Zavitokovsky said, is that standardized tests, no matter which one is used, generate close-to-identical results.
Normalized Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) results can be matched up directly with normalized Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, results. "This gives schools and districts a common yardstick going all the way back to 2001," the report said.
In that same time frame, average per-pupil spending on instruction rose by 47 percent in Quincy and by 74 percent statewide.
All those factors impact student achievement, but "let's throw out all the excuses," committee member Jim Rubottom said. "What is it that QPS can do that other schools in equal or worse situations are succeeding and just go do it."
One step already underway is realigning the district into K-5 learning communities in the five new elementary schools. Each learning community would have student populations of roughly equal socioeconomic and ethnicity levels.
"We can't change the home life, but we can change the schools," said School Board member Sheldon Bailey, who is chairman of the Curriculum Committee.
"That will make a gigantic difference," Zavitokovsky said.
But Superintendent Roy Webb said there's still more work to do.
Changes in composite achievement included in the report show that Quincy students lost three school months in average reading achievement over 15 years and seven school months in average math achievement.
"We're probably a little better than most, but we're not where we want to be. With our resources, with our teachers, with our staff, I think we have the capability to be better," Webb said. "It's true that we have challenges with demographics. We have challenges with financial resources, but we have to figure out what we need to do in Quincy and get to that level."