New state standards, chronic ethnic gaps make for ugly-looking U46 testing stats
By Dave Gathman email@example.com October 23, 2013 4:44PM
Substitute teacher Mary Blair assists students for an upcoming test at South Elgin High School. | Sun-Times Media File
Updated: November 25, 2013 1:12PM
ELGIN — Members of the Elgin School District U46 Board of Education express frustration that changing state test score standards mean they’re chasing after a moving target when they try to figure out whether students are learning enough.
And they note that ironically, keeping more kids from dropping out of school may actually be making those test scores worse.
But one statistic, they also noted, remains glaringly disturbing without any change in the state standards: black and Hispanic students remain drastically less likely than their white Anglo and Asian comrades to be considered “ready for college” based on the scores of their ACT tests.
The discussion at this week’s board meeting followed an analysis of last school year’s scores on the Illinois State Achievement (ISAT) Tests, the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) and the ACT college-readiness test, plus high school dropout and graduation rates.
At first glance, the stats make it look as if more U46 students are “flunking” the achievement tests. On the ISAT, for example, at least 65 percent of third-graders met the state goal for reading scores each year between 2008 and 2012. Last year, that plummeted to 50 percent.
For eighth-graders, 80 to 86 percent met the state reading standards in 2008-2012. Last year that plummeted to 54 percent.
In another typical example, the ISAT math scores for fifth-graders showed 82 to 85 percent meeting the state standards each year in 2008-2012. Last year, that dropped to 64 percent.
Raising the bar
But Suzanne Colombe, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, noted that last school year state officials raised the raw test scores needed to be considered “passing.”
“That doesn’t mean a student is less prepared or less knowledgeable than in previous years,” she said.
Colombe also noted that the scores now include students just learning the English language and students in special education programs.
On the other hand, Colombe noted, 11th-graders did better on the PSAE test than they did in 2008. The percentage meeting state standards in reading went up from 45 to 50 percent over those six years. The percentage meeting state standards in math went up from 46 percent to 51 percent.
When the high-school-age test results are divided by ethnicity, Colombe reported, all ethnicities improved their performance somewhat between 2008 and 2013. But the white Anglo and Asian students’ average scores started out much higher than those of the black and Hispanic students, and they remain much higher.
For Class of 2013 students who took the ACT, for example, 64 percent of Asian students and 59 percent of white Anglo students were considered “on target to meet college readiness standards.” But only 23 percent of Hispanics — the ethnic group that includes half of all U46 students — scored at that level, and only 17 percent of the black students.
“Each year, it seems, we get a situation like this where we aren’t able to compare apples to apples,” said board member Maria Bidelman.
Board Vice President Amy Kerber said she’s encouraged that, despite dealing with students who have numerous risk factors, “we continue to move the needle,” with students getting better average test scores as they become older.
But Kerber wondered whether the district needs to revise the targets for its “Destination 2015” project. For example, the district aims to have 75 percent of all 12th-graders scoring at least 21 points on the ACT by 2015. The actual ratio last year was a mere 42 percent. Many of the other 2013 statistics also fall far short of the 2015 goals.
One positive stat, board members noted, is that the percentage of students dropping out of school has gone down since 2008. The number of students who graduated in at least five years has gone up, to 85.5 percent.
But Superintendent Jose Torres noted that lowering the dropout rate also lowers test scores and achievement levels.
“If you want the dropout rate to go down, you will keep lower achievers in school,” Torres said. “If you want the achievement levels to be highest, you would push the lower achievers out.”
“We do educate all children,” said board member Traci O’Neal-Ellis. “Everyone who crosses our threshold, we do educate them — the highest achievers, our challenged and our lowest achievers are all supported, and that makes me proud.
“We could encourage more to drop out, but that’s not the right thing to do,” O’Neal-Ellis said.