By the Numbers

(page 8 of 8)

SPENDING VS. ACT SCORE (the last column on the chart)
Median: 2.4

This is the only column on the chart that rates schools based on their data. Phil Earvolino, the data manager at Wilmette School District 39—which comprises only elementary schools—created a program for Chicago that shows how a high school's average score on the ACT compares with those of other schools that spend about the same amount of money per student. For example, among schools that spend about $7,000 per student per year, which ones scored best on the ACT?

The final score is a relative measure. A higher number indicates that a school got a good ACT score relative to the amount spent per student. A lower number means the opposite: The ACT score was down rela- tive to the money spent.

For example, Maine West High School in Des Plaines received a score below the median: Although its per-student spending ($8,880) is near the top, its ACT score (21.6) is far lower than those of others that spend about the same. Conversely, Northside College Prep had the best score overall, earning the highest ACT score in the region (27.8), while spending the same amount of money—$5,858 per student—as every other CPS high school.

Another example: Students at Fenton High School in Bensenville and West Aurora High School in Aurora both averaged 20.1 on the ACT—but Fenton spent $8,200 per student, 63 percent more than West Aurora, which thus gets a higher score in this category.

Does the score indicate whether a school is being efficient in its spending?  Not necessarily. Experts say that many variables in addition to spending per student influence test scores: location, teacher experience and education level, and nonacademic programs. What's more, special circumstances not specifically related to classroom education can drive spending up.

Nonetheless, some educators are eager to highlight the relationship between money spent and the performance of their students on the ACT. "That's a stat we use all time," says Jim Caudill, the principal at Naperville Central since 2004. "I think it's legitimate." By this measure, Naperville Central does well: The school spends  $5,908 per student, only a little more than the state average of $5,366; meanwhile, the school's average ACT score—24.1—is well above the state average of 20.3.

"Money is important to a certain extent," Caudill says. "You can always use a few extra bucks. But does money give you better scores? No. More important is how you use your staff. And we've spent thousands of hours working on effective teaching."