Exemplary no more, at least for this year. 

That’s the verdict of the recently issued Illinois School Report Card as Oak Park and River Forest High School’s summative designation on the state issued school report fell to the commendable category this year from the exemplary designation the school achieved last year. Only the top 10% of public high schools in Illinois, as measured by the state, receive the coveted exemplary rating. Most Illinois schools are ranked commendable. The summative ranking is based on a variety of factors including graduation rate, chronic absenteeism, proficiency in ELA and math, 9th grade on track and the number of students responding to a school climate survey. 

OPRF Superintendent Greg Johnson said the biggest reason that OPRF did not merit the exemplary classification this year was because 2023 was the first year that OPRF’s English Language Learner subgroup, that’s students for whom English is not their first language, was large enough to be factored in OPRF’s state rating.

“That’s a population that historically has not been a large one in our school and it’s one that we have to make sure that we’re doing a really good job of serving,” Johnson said. “Honestly that is the biggest difference and if that shift hadn’t occurred, we absolutely would have been in the same status we were a year ago of exemplary and so we need to make sure that we’re really focusing on those kiddos.”

More troubling than the drop to commendable was that the school report card indicates that the gap between Black and white students at OPRF remains large and grew last year. In English Language Arts (ELA) the gap, as measured by the performance of juniors on the state mandated SAT exam, grew to 62 points as nearly 77% of white students at OPRF met or exceeded the state’s proficiency standard compared to just 16% of Black students. That gap increased by nine points from 2022. In math the gap did not grow nearly as much inching up to 52 points in 2023 from 49 points in 2022.

“Definitely, definitely a concern, there’s no other way to look at that,” Johnson said. “But I think that the major program that we’ve have to kind of address those gaps, specifically with our curriculum effort, are going to take time. There’s going to need to be some time before we can see the benefits of that work.”  

There was some good news. The gap between white and Hispanic students at OPRF shrunk considerably last year. In ELA the gap between Hispanic and white students dropped to 25 points, down from 37 points in 2022. In math the gap between white and Hispanic students dropped by 10 points, from 32 points in 2022 to 22 points in 2023.

“That’s a good sign,” Johnson said.

Some 16.2% of Black students at OPRF were classified as proficient in ELA by the state compared to 76.7% of Asian students, 76.5% of white students, and 50.5% of Hispanic students. The state defines proficiency in ELA as scoring 540 or higher on the evidence-based reading and writing portion of the state mandated SAT exam that all Illinois public school juniors are required to take.

In math only 10.9% of Black OPRF students reached the state proficiency level, a 540 score on the SAT math section, compared 39.4% of Hispanic students, 62.4% of white students, and 76.7% of Asian students at OPRF.  

The Illinois proficiency standards are the fourth toughest in the nation according to Tony Sanders, the state superintendent of education.

OPRF students as a whole significantly outperformed state averages. Overall 60.7% of OPRF juniors last year met the state standard in ELA while 50.1% did so in math. Statewide only 34.6% of students met the proficiency standard in ELA while just 26.9% did so in math.

But while white students at OPRF students significantly outperformed other white students statewide Black students at OPRF only barely outperformed the statewide average for Black students. 

Low-income students at OPRF struggled. Only 19.4% of low-income students at OPRF met the state proficiency standard in ELA and just 10.9% did so in math.

OPRF’s freshman on track, the percentage of freshmen who finished their freshman year with no more than one semester grade of F in a core class, dropped to 88.1% last year from 90.8% in 2022. That drop comes in the first year of the school’s new Honors for All freshman curriculum which got rid of the College Prep level of classes for most freshman core classes and put most students in Honors freshman classes. The percentage of Black OPRF freshmen on track fell more than five percent dropping to 73.1% last year compared to 78.8% in 2022.

“I don’t know that we can say that what we see in this very year is specifically singular to that freshman curriculum,” Johnson said. “It’s something that we’re going to have to take a close look at and study over time.”

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