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Only one public high school in Illinois’s 16 southernmost counties performed above the state average on the ACT during the 2014-15 school year, according to data released this past week by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Carterville High School students received an average score of 23 on the college-readiness assessment – two points higher than the state average of 21.

Students at four other schools – Carbondale Community High School, Red Bud High School, Vienna High School and Shawnee High School – netted average scores of 21. The rest of the region’s 44 high schools scored below the state average, with some schools averaging scores as low as 15.

The scores are tied to a state-defined college-readiness measure. Students who score a 21 or higher are considered ready for college.

At Egyptian Senior High School in Tamms, where students received an average score of 16, just 9 percent of students were deemed ready for college. At Cairo Jr/Sr High School, which saw the region’s lowest average ACT score of 15, just 10 percent of students were considered ready.

'Stretched Thin'

Southern Illinois administrators said inequality in school – and district residents' – finances often tip the scales in favor of richer districts.

“The areas with more wealth are in general going to do better,” said Steve Murphy, superintendent of Carbondale Community High School District 165. “When you look across the state, there aren’t a lot of those districts in Southern Illinois. That doesn’t mean educators in this region aren’t doing a great job, but you’re dealing with issues related to having students in poverty.”

Efforts are under way in Springfield to change that disparity, but Murphy said state budget gridlock is slowing down legislators' efforts.

At both Cairo and Egyptian, 100 percent of students come from low-income families. At Egyptian, 12 percent of students are homeless. That’s 10 percentage points higher than the state average for student homelessness.

Thanks to lower revenues from property taxes, both districts receive the vast majority of their funding from state and federal sources. Illinois has underfunded K-12 education since 2011, doling out only a percentage of the money owed districts. This disproportionately hurts poorer districts, which rely more on state funds.

In some, but not all, of the top-performing districts, the situation is flipped.

At Carterville and Carbondale high schools, 38 percent and 55 percent of students, respectively, are low-income.

Local funding accounts for 49 percent of Carterville’s funding and 79 percent of Carbondale’s funding.

“As far as funding, we’re one of the most stable in the region,” Murphy said. “And that’s because we have a larger property tax base than most other schools in the region.”

At Murphysboro, where local funds are hard to come by and the average ACT score of 19 fell somewhere in the middle of the Southern Illinois pack, Principal Tony Wilson said administrators have tried to strike a balance between preparing college-bound students as best they can and offering a bevy of vocational programs for students more likely to enter the workforce.

“When you’re stretched thin, you’ve gotta look at what basket to put your eggs in,” he said. “We do focus on the vocational because it does meet the needs of a lot of our student population.”

Wilson said Murphysboro receives about 70 percent of its funding from state and federal sources. (A lower number is reflected in ISBE’s data. Funding for a Pre-K program offsets the data, Wilson said.)

A Broader Measure

Still, administrators said ACT scores and college-readiness measures, while important, don’t offer a complete picture of a district’s educational success. Parents looking to evaluate their district also should pay attention to extracurricular offerings, availability of AP and dual-credit courses, and average class size, they said.

These measures are available for viewing on the Illinois Report Card website, illinoisreportcard.com. The site also tracks graduation rate, school demographics and spending trends, among other things.

Later this fall, ISBE officials plan to release school-specific data from the rollout this past spring of the PARCC test, the state’s new standardized test.

Aligned with the new Common Core learning standards, the test proved decidedly more difficult than its predecessor, the Prairie State Achievement Examination, or PSAE. State school officials already have warned that the results will be grim.

Only 17 percent of high schoolers met expectations in math. Only 5 percent met expectations on the English Language Arts/Literacy test.

Illinois Report Card data for Southern Illinois high schools

Source: Illinois State Board of Education

To view more school-success measures, visit the Illinois Report Card website, illinoisreportcard.com.

High school 2013 ACT 2014 ACT 2015 ACT Ready for college Graduation rate
Cairo Jr/Sr High School 14 15 15 10% 72%
Egyptian Sr High School 18 18 16 9% 76%
Meridian High School 15 16 16 14% 88%
Dongola High School 17 18 17 20% 70%
Gallatin High School 18 18 18 16% 77%
Elverado High School 20 19 18 20% 80%
Sparta High School 19 18 18 23% 82%
Coulterville High School 21 19 18 23% 92%
Carrier Mills-Stonefort High School 17 18 18 23% 76%
Century Jr/Sr High School 17 18 18 24% 97%
Carmi-White County High School 19 19 18 27% 84%
Christopher High School 17 19 18 28% 82%
Norris City-Omaha-Enfield High School 19 19 18 29% 92%
Eldorado High School 16 17 18 30% 83%
Steeleville High School 19 20 18 36% 86%
Zeigler-Royalton High School 19 18 18 37% 64%
Joppa Jr/Sr High School 19 19 19 21% 67%
Crab Orchard High School 19 19 19 29% 79%
Johnston City High School 20 20 19 30% 76%
Frankfort Community High School 19 19 19 30% 74%
Hardin County High School 18 17 19 31% 80%
Hamilton County Jr/Sr High School 19 18 19 32% 92%
Pinckneyville Community High School 19 19 19 33% 90%
Pope County High School 19 19 19 34% 91%
Murphysboro High School 18 19 19 34% 77%
Chester High School 18 21 19 34% 86%
Herrin High School 20 19 19 36% 82%
Anna-Jonesboro High School 19 19 19 37% 80%
Benton Consolidated High School 20 19 19 37% 81%
Trico Senior High School 20 19 19 37% 90%
Sesser-Valier High School 17 19 19 37% 90%
Thompsonville High School 18 18 19 37% 96%
Harrisburg High School 20 19 19 38% 83%
Galatia Jr/Sr High School 18 20 20 33% 93%
Goreville High School 19 19 20 40% 98%
Marion High School 20 20 20 42% 82%
Massac County High School 19 20 20 44% 83%
Cobden High School 18 20 20 47% 90%
DuQuoin High School 19 20 20 47% 87%
Shawnee High School 20 20 21 44% 73%
Vienna High School 19 20 21 47% 91%
Carbondale Community High School 21 21 21 50% 87%
Red Bud High School 20 20 21 51% 95%
Carterville High School 23 23 23 62% 84%

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sarah.graham@thesouthern.com

618-351-5076

@SHalaszGraham​

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Sarah Graham is a reporter for The Southern Illinoisan covering higher education and Union County.

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