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Number of students meeting standards drops

SPRINGFIELD – The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recently released 2013 state average test scores that showed Illinois elementary school students are  demonstrating growth in learning over the five-year trend under new performance levels. However, as expected following the board’s move to raise performance levels on the 2013 Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), the number of students meeting and exceeding state standards dropped.

These higher performance levels provide a more accurate and earlier indication of college and career readiness and better align with the expectations for 11th-graders who take the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), which includes the ACT. The ACT is considered the gold standard for measuring college and career readiness.

“By raising the ISAT cut scores in reading and math, we’ve seen the expected drop in student performance, but this drop does not reflect on students as a group or individuals – we raised the bar on performance levels,” said Illinois State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch.  “We needed to raise our expectations at the elementary level, so that students are on track for high school and eventually prepared to succeed in college, career and daily life. As we map student performance over time on the new performance levels, we’re seeing steady growth.”

Students in third through eighth grades last March took the ISAT in reading and mathematics, which were subject to the raised performance levels, while fourth and seventh graders were also tested in science, which did not see a change in performance expectations as new science standards have not yet been approved.  Students in 11th grade last April took the PSAE, which tests students in math, reading and science.

The statewide composite score for students meeting and exceeding standards on the ISAT dropped, going from 82.1 in 2012 to 61.9 in 2013. This decline is very similar to the projections Koch and board members made in January when they announced the higher cut scores.

Analysis of previous ISAT composite scores for reading and math alone under the new cut scores shows that students demonstrated significant growth during the past five years, increasing overall performance on ISAT reading from 54.8 in 2009 to 59 in 2013. Analysis on ISAT math scores during that same five-year timeline shows an increase from 55.3 in 2009 to 58.7 in 2013.  The overall composite math and reading score increased from 55.1 in 2009 to 58.8 in 2013.

The ISAT science composite score – not impacted by the raised cut scores — went from 79.8 in 2012 to 80.0 in 2013.

The composite score for the PSAE, given to 11th-graders, increased from 51.3 in 2012 to 51.9 in 2013. Performance level cut scores for the PSAE were not raised as the test includes the ACT.

Prior to raising the cut scores, a disconnect existed between the ISAT and the higher expectations of the PSAE with 82 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards on the ISAT statewide in 2012, while only 51 percent met or exceeded standards on the PSAE that same year. Educators have wanted to remedy that disconnect by raising expectations earlier to provide a more accurate indication of whether a student is on track for post-secondary success.

"We appreciate the coherence and clarity the Illinois State Board of Education is bringing to the need for schools to focus on college and career readiness, and specifically the help and support the Common Core State Standards provide as far as curricular direction and focus is concerned,’’ said Dr. Eric Twadell, superintendent of Adlai Stevenson High School District 125. “Clearly, education for the 21st Century is changing dramatically, and we’re grateful to the ISBE for providing us the resources to support our teachers and students in this important work."

Jeff Mays, president of the Illinois Business Round Table, supports the state’s move to the Common Core Learning Standards and higher performance level cut scores, saying that both initiatives will promote a more serious and perhaps more urgent dialogue among schools within Illinois, and more importantly, between the school, parents and students about the level of achievement needed to meet the challenges before them.

“By realigning all ISAT scoring expectations to those of the high school test (Prairie State Achievement Exam-PSAE), the State Board of Education has signaled that all students and schools will be held to the same expectations,” Mays said. “This means that a large number of students and schools that met standards in 2012 will no longer be told they met standards on the Spring 2013 ISATs.  If schools are truly about the kids, isn’t it better that kids know sooner rather than later where they truly stand on their education path?”

Student demographics and performance   

• The number of districts declined from 891 in 2003 to 863 in 2013; there were 376 elementary districts, 100 high school districts and 387 unit districts.

• In 2012-13, the total enrollment in Illinois public schools was 2,054,155, down more than 12,000 (12,537) students from 2012.

• Since 1999, the percentage of low-income students has increased from 36.1 percent to 49.8 percent in 2013.

• Minority enrollment increased from 38 percent in 1999 to 49.4 percent. The increase is attributed to the growth of the Hispanic student population, which increased from 13.9 percent in 1999 to 24.1 percent of all students in 2013.

• The number of Limited-English Proficient (LEP) students increased from 6.3 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2013. LEP students include those who are eligible for bilingual education.

ISBE has produced the School Report Card since 1986 for every public school and district in Illinois. State report cards have been produced since 2002 and are required under No Child Left Behind.

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