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Changing the s‘Core’ card

Editor’s note: This is the second in a multi-part series about the new Common Core State Standards.

In June 2010, Illinois adopted a revised set of learning standards known as the Common Core State Standards, which were developed when states banded together to map out grade-by-grade guidelines.

The new standards are part of a trend toward national standards. In addition to Illinois, the standards have been adopted by every state except Minnesota, Nebraska, Texas, Virginia and Alaska.

Illinois is currently in the transition process, and the new assessment system will be in place for the 2014-15 school year.

Last week, the Illinois State Board of Education raised the performance levels of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) for elementary and middle school students. The new performance levels will align with the more rigorous Common Core standards to prepare for the higher expectations of a new assessment system set to debut in 2014-15.

“The board today took a significant step in changing how we measure a student’s progress,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “The lower expectations of the previous performance levels did our students a disservice by not adequately assessing their ability to succeed after high school. The new, higher expectations will provide more accurate information about a child’s development and allow us to provide the appropriate supports and interventions earlier in a student’s academic career to ensure he or she is on track to enter college or career-training programs.”

At least a few area superintendents have concerns with the new system.

Ohio Superintendent Sharon Sweger said there has been a disconnect between students performing well at the grade school level and much lower scores as a junior in high school.

The ISATs assess students in math, reading and science each spring, but not all students who score high in elementary school continue the high scores on the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE.) Last year 82 percent of students met or exceeded standards on the ISATs, while only 51 percent met or exceeded on the PSAE.

Sweger said many educators feel this is a problem with the test given at the high school level, while others attribute the disconnect to the curriculum.

“The state has recognized the need to change the testing system and curriculum, but in my opinion, the state is jumping from issue to issue changing too many things at once, not allowing a school to focus and put forth a good product,” she said. “If the end goal is to educate students to be successful after graduation, then why are we not measuring student success after graduation? Instead we measure how a student performs on a test on a given day.”

Another concern is with the new test. According to the ISBE, the higher expectations of the new ISAT scores will cause a downward shift in the number of students who meet or exceed standards.

Princeton Elementary Superintendent Tim Smith said he wants to make sure parents, the community and the school board are aware the lower scores will reflect the changing standards, not a decrease in the students’ proficiency.

Smith is also concerned about the loss of control.

“Locally we have lost a lot of control of education,” he said. “The real authority is at the federal level.”

Bureau Valley Superintendent Dennis Thompson said it’s impossible for students to continue scoring higher and higher each year.

“’You have to reach a maximum level,” he said.

The new assessments are developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Instead of the traditional multiple choice, the computer-based test will require the students to have more technical skills besides a wider range of knowledge.

Thompson said they will also be more expensive, requiring new integrated textbooks, adequate technology, and more training for teachers. All of this additional expense is coming at a time when Bureau Valley and most school districts across the state are struggling financially.

“It’s difficult to have a fair estimate of students’ achievement when there are so many hurdles for us to get over,” he said.

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