Frequently Asked Questions
The Illinois Center for School Improvement (Illinois CSI) helps leaders from underperforming urban, rural, and suburban districts transform their systems and ultimately drive higher student achievement.
Q. What experience does Illinois CSI have to help district leaders?
A. Illinois CSI Executive Director Dr. Betheny Lyke is a former teacher, and building and district administrator who assumed the leadership of a struggling district. She understands the challenges facing the leaders working to transform districts. From Dr. Lyke to the 100 coaches working with district leaders in their communities, Illinois CSI team members are dedicated, experienced educators who are passionate about helping schools and students succeed.
Q.There have been many school improvement efforts. What makes Illinois CSI different?
A.Illinois CSI is not focused on compliance and test scores. Although these things will continue to be important measures, research shows that changing the system is vital to ensuring consistent and enduring improvement. That's where we come in. We work with district leaders to help them focus on the work that will drive long-term improvement. This approach includes guiding them through the implementation of research-based best practices to empower their teachers and make a difference in the lives of their students.
Q. How does Illinois CSI do that?
A. We help districts transform their systems with practices rooted in our theory of action: creating effective leadership teams from the district to the classroom level; building intentional data systems into school culture so the implementation of best practices are routinely assessed; and monitoring those practices to ensure continual improvement. We get to know district leaders and their schools through months of data review to assess their needs, then provide ongoing guidance to help them interpret the findings and make changes tailored to their district's needs.
Q. Do you have any results?
A. District leaders overwhelmingly agree that their schools are making systemwide improvements that will lead to real and significant change. Student achievement is about far more than test scores. Research shows it's vital to address the whole education system to ensure consistent benefit to students and long-term school improvement. That is what Illinois CSI is doing. We use evidence-based practices to help districts build an entire system that can support all students. We continually gather evidence of what's improved. As a result of working with Illinois CSI:
- 92 percent of districts said they established routines that support collaborative work and evidence-based deliberation
- 18 of 19 districts needing an effective data system are in the process of developing one
- 75 percent said they are on track or ahead of schedule to meet their improvement goals
We also have anecdotal evidence of improvement. Schools have made meaningful change to their leadership structures; revamped their data systems so they can help teachers assess if what they're doing in the classroom is working; and reported tremendous gains among students in mathematics performance growth, from 3 percent to 24 percent during four assessment periods.
Q. With how many schools does Illinois CSI work?
A. Illinois CSI works with 96 districts encompassing 402 schools that are identified by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
Q. What services does Illinois CSI provide?
A. Illinois CSI provides:
- Priority services to 30 districts that have schools that score in the lowest 5 percent of schools in Illinois
- Focus services to 66 districts that have schools with underperforming subgroups, including students from low-income households, those who have special needs, and those for whom English is a second language
Our arsenal of research-based Core Function and Indicators are our "big ideas" of effective practices that help enhance management, operations, teaching, and learning and ensure continual improvement.
Illinois CSI formed the District Leadership Team Learning Network and offers Research Forums to add value to our services as district leaders meet regularly to glean the latest research, share challenges and experiences, develop tools and ideas, and encourage innovation as they work to improve their schools.
For more specialized support, we work through our network of statewide system of support partners (SSoS) and affiliates such as regional offices of education and intermediate service centers, the Illinois Principals Association, the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Association of School Administrators, the Illinois Multi-Tiered System of Supports Network, the Illinois Resource Center, Governors State University, and the South and West Cook County Suburban Mathematics Initiative (University of Illinois). We help districts ensure that these services are aligned.
Q. What is the specific process Illinois CSI uses?
A. The step-by-step process Illinois CSI uses to help districts revamp their systems includes:
- Assessment: Illinois CSI collects and reviews extensive data from a variety of sources to immerse itself into the district's needs.
- Analysis: Guided by Illinois CSI, our proprietary tool takes district leaders, teachers, support staff, and community members through a collaborative process where stakeholders roll up their sleeves and spend the day interpreting the data together to identify strengths and challenges.
- Planning: Illinois CSI works with the district to develop a strategy for improvement based on key findings, drawing from research-based processes and practices proven to transform systems.
- Coaching: Illinois CSI works closely with district leaders to coach them through implementation of those plans.
- Collaboration: Illinois CSI brings leaders of similar districts together to share experiences and inspire change.
- Monitoring progress: Illinois CSI supports district leaders as they evaluate the results of their work and provides ongoing feedback to ensure continual improvement.
Q. Who provides Illinois CSI's funding?
A. Illinois CSI is funded through a federal grant that is administered by ISBE.
Q. Does ISBE operate Illinois CSI?
A. No. Illinois CSI is operated by American Institutes for Research (AIR) on behalf of ISBE. AIR is a leading social science research organization renowned for its expertise in education through extensive district and school improvement research, evaluation, and technical assistance.
Q. Where does Illinois CSI's research and best-practice information come from?
A. AIR, which operates Illinois CSI, provides us access to its arsenal of research. This research allowed Illinois CSI to identify the three Core Functions, which are the "big ideas" on which district leaders should focus for district success. They include management and operations, teaching and learning, and continual improvement. To generate success, Illinois CSI, in partnership with ISBE and AIR, identified 29 proven "indicators of successful districts" within these three core functions, and provides extensive research and resources for each.
Q. How does the implementation of ESSA affect Illinois CSI?
A. The direction provided by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) to improve schools validates the work Illinois CSI is doing. ESSA looks beyond test scores and compliance to a number of factors that determine a district's success. ESSA also supports state and school system innovation to make changes that ensure student success as a whole. Student success has always been our goal at Illinois CSI, and we have made progress in the two years we've been providing services to struggling districts.
Ahead of the curve, Illinois CSI has already begun the work ESSA calls for by:
- Helping districts whose schools are struggling to close the achievement gap: students from low-income households, those who have special needs, and those for whom English is a second language
- Ensuring consistency of statewide improvement by drawing on best practices to guide districts with struggling schools to revamp across their systems, ensuring continual progress
- Deploying a statewide team of more than 100 professionals who come from the school communities they serve and who coach district leaders in applying proven best practices to transform their districts