Happy Illinois 5Essentials Day!

The designation commemorates the Illinois State Board of Education’s decision to adopt the 5Essentials survey, an education initiative developed at UChicago.

By Hamid Bendaas

In honor of an education initiative developed at UChicago, Governor Pat Quinn officially designated tomorrow “Illinois 5Essentials Day.”

The designation commemorates the Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE) decision to adopt the 5Essentials survey, which presents an evaluation system for schools based on what the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research (CCSR) found to be the five best indicators of school improvement: strong leadership by principals, collaboration between staff, supportive family and community relationships, a safe environment for students, and engaging classes.

The survey was adapted for statewide use by UChicago Impact, which, like CCSR, is a department of the Urban Education Institute. Digital distribution of the survey to each school began on February 1, and the window for completing the survey will continue through the end of March. According to ISBE spokesperson Mary Fergus, “the survey takes about fifteen minutes.”

The survey is based on the study Organizing Schools for Improvement, which primarily investigated schools within Chicago Public Schools (CPS). In 2010, CPS adopted the survey.

“Our research showed that across hundreds of schools in Chicago, strength in three to five of the essential support domains greatly raised the probability that these schools would improve student learning in language arts and mathematics over time,” said Penny Bender Sebring, founding director of CCSR and one of the researchers who conducted the CCSR study that was used to develop the original survey.

5Essentials was adopted in response to a request for proposals by the ISBE after the 2011 Illinois Senate Bill 7 required them to implement a statewide survey to assess school learning conditions during the 2012–2013 school year.

“This is the first time our state has administered a statewide survey of this magnitude or any magnitude, and we are among a few states which have tried this,” Fergus said.

“The unique part of this work is that we measure everything simultaneously. Usually, if someone does a study of inclusive leadership for example, they only have measures of leadership,” said Elaine Allensworth, interim executive director of CCSR and also a researcher on the original study. “With this, we can see how everything fits together.”

“What happens when you have a system like 5Essentials that’s in every school, is it gives everyone a common language,” Nicholas Montgomery, chief product and design architect and co-founder of UChicago Impact, said.

Impact’s goal with the statewide survey is a 70 percent sufficient response rate, according to Montgomery. Two weeks in, they have already received sufficient response from 20 percent of schools in the state.

Although the state board has mandated that all Illinois public schools take the survey, they are leaving it to the individual school districts to decide how they will address the resulting data.

“The data is primarily for districts to use at the local level to celebrate and share their strengths and identify their weaknesses,” Fergus said. “This survey is primarily for informational purposes and to help districts target their local resources towards improvement.”

She added that the data are “already the kind of things that students are talking about in the parking lot, what teachers talk about in the teacher’s lounges. They’re the important factors of school life and we’ll be collecting and sharing that for the first time.”

Although “Illinois 5Essentials Day” could be considered the culmination of more than seven years of hard work by CCSR and Impact, the work will continue.

“We’ll take a little bit of time to toast ourselves, but we’re in the middle of all the work. We need to be here to staff the phones, staff the e-mails,” Montgomery said.

“We don’t have anything planned, to my knowledge,” Elaine Allensworth, CCSR Interim Executive Director, said. “Maybe someone will bring in cupcakes.”