What is the Best Educational Value in Chicagoland? (updated 4-2013)


QualityEducation203.org annually compares Naperville Community Unit School District 203’s composite ACT score and operational expenditures to those of the highest performing public school districts in the Chicagoland area. We never fail to appreciate what we find. Year in and year out, the return on our community's educational investment is substantial. While that return is reflected in the high scores of District 203 students in state and national achievement tests, it is also reflected in the numerous victories in academic and athletic competitions, or frankly the benefits of simply participating in them and the many clubs, that our extracurricular programs in athletics, and the arts and sciences, bring to our students and the community.

District 203 takes its mission statement seriously: to educate students to be self-directed learners, collaborative workers, complex thinkers, quality producers and community contributors. The District is committed to providing a stimulating educational environment with a wide range of cultural and athletic opportunities, while promoting the socio-emotional development of its students. It's a huge and complicated task that scores on a standardized test can't measure.

Still, the composite ACT score is an accepted benchmark of a school district's academic performance; it is the most widely accepted test for college admissions in the U.S.  We are less confident in the Illinois ISAT test given to elementary and jr. high students. The ISAT is slated to be replaced in 2014, once the new PARCC assessments based on the Common Core Standards are in place.

Although we feel that ACT scores are the most accurate benchmark available, we are not implying that that high ACT or ISAT scores are the only indicator of a quality education. We caution that discretion should be applied when comparing districts with minor differences in scores; variances of a few tenths of a point are not statistically significant. Further, districts with higher populations of low income students face greater challenges on standardized tests, than those with fewer low income students.

With respect to expenditures, the average District 203 Operational Expenditure Per Pupil (OEPP) over a 20 year period has been right at the state average, a rarity for suburban Chicago school districts.

When you consider District 203's students’ high ACT and other academic achievement scores, and the amount the District spends per student, it is readily apparent that District 203 is a bargain. By every measure, there is only one conclusion:

District 203 not only excels in educating our children, it accomplishes it at a lower cost than any other highly achieving school district in the Chicagoland area. In the six years QE203.org has conducted this analysis, there has not been another district in the Chicago area whose students ACT scores equal or exceed D203 students’ scores, while spending less than D203.

District 203 stands alone in dollars spent for ACT scores its students achieve.

QE203.org analysis of the Illinois State Board of Education 2012 Report Cards 

We looked at the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) data for the 2011-2012 school year and compared Naperville District 203 to the top seven high performing high school districts and the top seven high performing Community Unit School Districts.

District 203 compared to the top seven High School Districts

There are only four high school districts in the Chicagoland area whose students posted higher ACT scores than District 203.

Our analysis indicates the average additional amount spent per student by these four districts is $4,524 (37%) per year more than District 203's $12,265 - which itself is only $601 more than the state average. While these seven districts are in the Chicaoland area, they are also the top performing districts in Illinois.

District 203 compared to the top seven CUSD school districts

Our comparison of District 203 to the seven top CUSD districts (combined elementary and high school districts) shows that District 203's ACT composite score is, once again, first, with its ISAT (elementary school) score coming in sixth. It is noteworthy that the top CUSD’s spend significantly less per pupil than the top achieving districts with separate elementary-high school systems.

It should also be noted that Illinois is one of only 8 states that requires 100% of 11th grade students to take the ACT.

A note on other rankings:

Both US News & World Report and Newsweek do national rankings for high schools. While their methodology takes a number of factor into consideration, because they put so much emphasis on  taking AP classes and tests, their ranking are essentially proxies for AP participation rates. We think that is far, far too narrow a criterion and does a disservice to those students who are achieving academically, but are not taking AP classes.