Updated: Oct 16
For the third consecutive year, Downers Grove South High School (DGS) fell outside the top 100 high schools in Illinois as ranked by U.S. News & World Report. DGS was ranked 116th in 2023, which continues to decline since Dr. Henry Thiele was hired as superintendent of District 99 in 2016.
On its website, DGS promoted for years its 2016 ranking of the 77th best high school in Illinois. The paragraph was removed from the site in March 2023. An archived copy of the page exists on the Wayback Machine.
Of the 23 high schools in DuPage County, DGS is in the bottom quarter of schools with the 18th lowest ranking. DuPage County is a large area with a higher population than five states. Comparing DGS among all 23 schools does not give a complete picture, especially since the four lowest-rated schools are at least 15 miles away from DGS.
DGS Compared To Neighboring Schools
Using Roosevelt Road as a dividing line, there are 11 high schools in north DuPage County and 12 high schools in south DuPage County. Compared to the high schools in south DuPage County, only DGS does not appear in Illinois' top 100 high schools per U.S. News & World Report. The other 11 are all ranked within the top 80.
Downers Grove South is the only high school in south DuPage County not ranked in the top 100 high schools in Illinois per U.S. News & World Report. The other 11 high schools are all ranked within the top 80.
Removing artificial boundary lines, DGS sits among 14 other high schools within a 7-mile radius. This replaces Metea Valley and Waubonsie Valley on the far west side of DuPage with schools north of Roosevelt Road as well as schools in Cook and Will counties.
This is the truest comparison of neighboring schools. But even when expanding beyond county lines, only Glenbard East is ranked lower than DGS at 139th. The other 13 are all ranked in the top 100 high schools in Illinois per U.S. News & World Report.
Of the 14 high schools within a 7-mile radius, only Glenbard East is ranked lower than Downers Grove South. The other 13 are all ranked in the top 100 high schools in Illinois per U.S. News & World Report.
Falling SAT Scores
The four principle measures that drive the U.S. News & World Report rankings are as follows: Reading Proficiency, Math Proficiency, College Readiness, and Graduation Rate. The lower-than-average scores in all four measures are why DGS received a lower ranking than neighboring high schools.
Reading and Math proficiency in Illinois is based on the results of the SAT exam administered to juniors each spring. During the February 2023 School Board Meeting, Superintendent Thiele rationalized falling SAT scores within the district by presenting the national percentile of the District 99 average scores since 2017.
Superintendent Thiele proposed, "For better or worse, that's where we're at. And test scores, when you look at them in comparison to all of the kids taking them year-to-year, we're kind of sitting in the same spot." This defense was later refuted by Gary Bakker, an actuary in attendance that night, who responded saying, "I don't think your background is in math. Mine is. I see a downward trend. If I were any of you, I would be concerned."
Beyond the downward trend are the actual percentiles. Since 2017, District 99 has been around the 50th percentile in English and between the 55th and 60th percentile in Math. In terms of average SAT scores, District 99 schools are merely average nationally.
According to the U.S. News & World Report career rankings, "High School Teachers made a median salary of $61,820 in 2021. The best-paid 25% made $78,780 that year." Per the Illinois Report Card, the average salary for a District 99 teacher in 2021 was $98,729.
Such disparities in salary are sufficient to call comparisons to national averages into question. The school board and residents of District 99 would be right to wonder whether median results are worth the luxury price.
It is for this reason that comparisons to neighboring schools are essential. Variable factors, including salary, will have greater consistency within the local area, leading to better apples-to-apples matches.
Using data from the Illinois Report Card, the average SAT scores of DGS were below average for all years between 2017 and 2022. 2020 is excluded as the SAT exam was not given that year due to the pandemic.
On average, DGS was 23-38 points lower in English and 12-30 points lower in Math. Regardless of the number of colleges moving to test-optional admissions, there remains a significant number of DGS students and parents who would appreciate and benefit from an SAT score that is up to 70 points higher.
The Downers Grove South average SAT scores were below average at every comparison level, for all years 2017-2022, for both English and Math.
How Many DGS Graduates Are Ready For College?
According to the U.S. News & World Report explanation, their College Readiness score "is measured by the proportion of a school's 12th graders who took and earned a qualifying score on Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exams." Essentially, it is a formula that calculates how many seniors took and passed an Advanced Placement (AP) exam.
Among all 23 high schools in DuPage County, DGS has the lowest College Readiness score at 27.1. Only 32% of DGS seniors, a county low, took an AP exam compared to the DuPage County median of 50%.
The AP exam pass rate for DGS was 72%, which is one place above the DuPage County median of 70%. Having a slightly above-average pass rate was however not enough to close the gap for lacking the students to attempt an exam.
DGS Compared To Large DuPage County High Schools
In response to this year's low ranking from U.S. News & World Report, the District 99 news release stated, "Many of the schools ranked highest on the list are schools with selective enrollment and are not similar to large comprehensive public high schools like those in District 99." Nearby Hinsdale Central has an enrollment of 2,544 students. This year, Hinsdale Central was ranked 10th in Illinois high schools by U.S. News & World Report.
Of the 8 large high schools in DuPage County with enrollments over 2,500 students, 6 were ranked in the top 50. Lake Park was ranked 69th. Among the 8 schools, DGS, with the 3rd largest enrollment of the group, ranked last in each measure, except Math Proficiency, where it was next to last.
DuPage County high schools with enrollment greater than 2,500 students ranks of Reading Proficiency, Math Proficiency, College Readiness, and Graduation Rate for 2023 according to U.S. News & World Report.
Property Value Concerns
In advocacy for its 2018 bond of $136.6 million for capital facility improvements, District 99 sent voters a brochure stating, "The quality of our local schools drives the local real estate market." It went on to say that property values are partly driven by young families seeking "modern instructional spaces."
While the quality of local schools impacts property values, prospective home buyers are not touring two-story atrium common areas to gauge that quality. They will look at rankings, especially those from U.S. News & World Report.
Downers Grove is the first express stop on Metra's highly popular BNSF line followed by Lisle and Naperville. These, combined with their bordering towns, have historically been an attractive suburban area for commuting to Chicago.
The excuses of Superintendent Thiele might persuade the District 99 school board and residents. But he has not fooled U.S. News & World Report. DGS is far and away the lowest-ranked high school in southern DuPage County, where the BNSF line runs.
If the administration and school board truly cared about property values within District 99, it would forget about spending extra millions of taxpayer money on bloated construction projects and instead divert all attention toward improving the academics at Downers Grove South.
Article submitted by Downers Grove Resident, Rich Bennema