School Alpha™: The Top 10 Illinois High Schools that Exceed Expectations

In finance, alpha is a term used to describe an investment manager's performance relative to the market (e.g. her peers). The source of an investment manager's positive alpha is like a secret sauce — a distinct and often elusive strategy that causes her outperformance. Schoolhound simiarly wants to determine which schools deliver outperformance and has developed a methodology to determine alpha in the school context. By using factors derived from student, teacher, program and community characteristics, and predictive modeling, we calculate the expected ACT performance of 563 Illinois public schools and compare these values to their actual ACT performance. We call a school's outperformance relative to its peers School Alpha™.

First, we want to highlight the Illinois public high school with the highest School Alpha™, Eric Solorio Academy High School in Chicago. Its ACT of 18.9 is almost 4 points higher than would be expected of a school with similar student, teacher and community composition. Using the community attendance boundary demographic data on Schoolhound, we can see that only 8% of adults have a bachelors degree in the attendance boundary and the median household income is below $38,000. 96% of the students are low-income.

You can see the range of scores for 563 schools throughout the state in the chart below.

Finally, our top 10 schools are listed. They span the state and range from rural downstate to inner-city and suburban Chicago. You can access each school profile using the link.

School School Alpha™ Actual ACT Expected ACT
Eric Solorio Academy High School, Chicago +3.8 18.9 15.1
GCMS High School, Gibson City +2.9 22.7 19.8
Naperville North High School, Naperville +2.6 25.0 22.4
Morton High School, Morton +2.5 23.8 21.3
Mt Olive High School, Mount Olive +2.5 22.0 19.5
Red Hill Jr/Sr High School, Bridgeport +2.5 21.9 19.4
Williamsville High School, Williamsville +2.5 23.5 21.0
Roanoke-Benson High School, Roanoke +2.4 22.1 19.7
Naperville Central High School, Naperville +2.3 25.2 22.9
New Trier Township H S Winnetka, Winnetka +2.3 27.4 25.1

Understanding the source of this alpha is difficult, and possibly something that can't be captured with data. Is it the 5Essentials, an active parent community, driven teachers, an outstanding principal, or great after-school programs? Whatever the reason, these schools are doing something we can all likely learn from.

A note on methodology: we used ACT score for this analysis and will expand it to other indicators such as graduation rates soon. We were able to compare 563 public high schools with attendance boundaries (this excludes charter schools and magnet schools that only use district boundaries). A paper about the methodology is available upon request.