Illinois School Analysis Made Easy with NIU’s Interactive Report Card

Published December 1, 2004

For nearly 30 years, U.S. consumer goods corporations have had online access to interactive sales and marketing databases for ad hoc data analysis and decision support. Until recently, similar input/output data for driving decisions in K-12 education have been out-of-date or out-of-reach to parents, educators, and policymakers. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is changing that.

Implementation of and compliance with NCLB has forced school districts and states to better organize data on school performance for ready reporting to the U.S. Department of Education. Although NCLB data processing still is unacceptably delayed–results from spring tests are not reported to parents until late summer–the creation of a statewide database of school-level NCLB data provides the potential for linking to other databases that include school and district demographics, expenditures, revenue sources, and tax rates.

In Illinois, that potential has become reality in the form of the Illinois Interactive Report Card (IIRC), a powerful Web-based data analysis tool created and maintained by Northern Illinois University (NIU) through a $180,000 grant from the Illinois Department of Education. Since December 2003, persons with an interest in viewing and analyzing a wide range of performance, demographic, and resource data for public schools in Illinois have been able to do so on their computer desktops.

Whitney Elementary

As well as current data, the IIRC contains data from previous years to allow longitudinal tracking. In addition, graphs show achievement versus Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) benchmarks for each school, grade, and subgroup–and where they need to be by 2014.

The IIRC also makes it easy for a user to compare schools by grouping them in a wide variety of ways, including selecting by student test performance, per-pupil spending, poverty level, ethnic characteristics, type of school district, teacher qualifications, average salaries, and tax rates. This powerful selection capability allows educators and parents to readily identify schools that have high levels of student achievement despite having demographic or other characteristics normally associated with low student achievement. A recently added scatter chart feature allows users to see individual school and district performance in a statewide context.

“Conventional wisdom suggests that the larger the percentage of low-income students in a school, the lower the level of academic performance,” said Harvey Smith, director of NIU’s Social Science Research Institute and leader of the IIRC project. “Using the comparison features of the IIRC, you can quickly see that low-income does not necessarily mean low performance. Whatever its faults, ‘No Child Left Behind’ is forcing us to think about how to raise performance of all students, regardless of their environments.”

George A. Clowes ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.

For more information …

The Illinois Interactive Report Card is available online at