Statewide dip in number of students meeting standards
By Emily McFarlan Miller firstname.lastname@example.org @emmillerwrites September 16, 2013 1:16PM
U46 Superintendent Jose Torres
Updated: October 20, 2013 6:49AM
The Illinois State Board of Education released 2013 state average test scores last week showing, as officials have warned, a dramatic drop in the number of elementary and middle school students meeting and exceeding state standards.
The number of students meeting and exceeding standards on the ISAT (Illinois Standards Achievement Test) statewide decreased from 82.1 percent in 2012 to 61.9 in 2013, according to the ISBE.
But that’s not because the students who took the test in March earned lower scores; in fact, the state board was quick to point out they continue a five-year trend of growth.
Instead, that’s simply because the board raised performance levels this year on the math and reading sections of the ISAT, raising the “cut” scores used to determine whether students meet state standards in math and reading.
“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,” State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said in a written statement from ISBE.
“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.”
Raw numbers actually up
An analysis of previous ISAT composite scores for reading and math alone shows students still have demonstrated growth over the past five years, increasing overall performance on ISAT reading from 54.8 percent meeting standards in 2009 to 59 percent in 2013, according to ISBE. The percentage of students meeting math standards increased from 55.3 in 2009 to 58.7 in 2013.
The percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards in their overall composite math and reading score increased from 55.1 in 2009 to 58.8 in 2013, it said.
Meantime, third-graders, for instance, now must make a 207 in reading and 214 in math, according to information from ISBE. Last year, third-graders needed only to score a 191 of 329 in reading to meet expectations and a 184 of 341 in math, it said.
That change in “cut” scores comes as school districts continue to implement the more-rigorous Common Core standards that have been adopted by the state.
The higher performance levels provide a more-accurate and earlier indication of college and career readiness, according to ISBE. They also better align with the expectations for 11th-graders who take the Prairie State Achievement Exam, it said.
What could all this look like in local school districts?
In February, the state board had projected the state average would drop to 60 percent meeting those tougher state standards.
It also projected what local school districts’ scores could look like when they are announced in late October: That showed the numbers plummeting from 75 percent of students in Elgin School District U46 meeting or exceeding state standards to 54 percent. In reading, those numbers could fall from 76 percent to 54; and in math, from 86 to 60.
In Community Unit School District 300, the adjusted numbers fell from a total 79 percent to 59, according to information from ISBE. In reading, that looked like a drop from 80 percent to 59, and in math from 88 to 61.
In a statement this week to The Courier-News, U46 Superintendent Jose Torres compared the ISAT scale changes to the Body Mass Index scale, “which if it ever changed, would substantially alter the number of people who are considered overweight or underweight.”
“The new expectations do not mean that our students know less than before or are less prepared,” Torres said. “It means that the state expects a higher level of knowledge and skills to achieve the ‘Meet’ or ‘Exceed’ rating on the ISAT.”