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Schools brace for lower state test results because of new scoring system

Corron Elementary School fourth grader Kennedy Fuchs (center) raises her hand as she and her classmates review for a math test at the St. Charles school.
Corron Elementary School fourth grader Kennedy Fuchs (center) raises her hand as she and her classmates review for a math test at the St. Charles school.

Students in third through eighth grade just took their state-mandated tests this month, but administrators of school districts in and near the Tri-Cities already know one fact about the scores: Fewer students will meet and exceed standards.

No, the administrators have made sure to say, the students aren’t necessarily performing worse. Rather, scoring of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test has changed for reading and math.

The ISAT is considered the same even though a portion of the test was written to the Common Core Learning Standards, Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Fergus said in an email.

Mark Pomplun, the executive director of assessment and accountability for St. Charles School District 303, compared the new scoring to needing 70 percent to pass a class one week and, the next week, needing 85 percent to pass.

“All the bars kind of moved,” said Erika Schlichter, director of educational services for Kaneland School District 302. “We are going to see a big difference in scores at the three to eight grade level.”

It is unknown how the new scoring system will affect schools’ and school districts’ Adequate Yearly Progress results, which typically are announced in the fall, Pomplun said.

“That’s what’s confusing,” he said.

Even without the higher expectations, 82 percent of Illinois school districts and 66 percent of schools failed to make AYP under No Child Left Behind, according to ISBE.

To illustrate the effects of the new scoring, the ISBE evaluated last year’s ISAT scores under the new scoring it approved in January. Statewide last year, 79 percent of students were proficient in reading, and 86 percent were proficient in math. Had the higher expectations been used, 60 percent of students would have been proficient in both subjects.

Like many other states, Illinois has applied for a waiver to the federal NCLB requirements. That waiver would change the system for making AYP, Pomplun said. Until the state learns whether its application is accepted, he said, school officials don’t know if AYP will be determined under the old or new system.

“If every school fails, I don’t think it will mean very much,” Pomplun said.

Fergus said in an email that the agency is still waiting for the U.S. Education Department’s decision.

“We’re hopeful that our application will be accepted,” she wrote.

Confusion aside, administrators welcomed the higher expectations.

“Higher standards are a good thing,” said Patty O’Neil, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction at Geneva School District 304. “We want our students to be successful.”

With most of St. Charles students going to college, Pomplun said, District 303 welcomes the new standards because it is supposed to measure college readiness – a quality parents and students want.

According to the ISBE, the higher expectations will better align with the more rigorous Common Core Learning Standards being implemented in schools statewide. A new assessment system – the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers – is expected to debut in 2014-15.

State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch has said the previous scoring did students a disservice because it did not adequately assess 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,” Koch said in a written statement when the change was announced.

Scoring of the Prairie State Achievement Exam – the test 11th-graders take – won’t change, as it is already based on college and career readiness. Thus, the state is projecting a smaller gap between the eighth- and 11th-grade scores. Last year, for example, 82 percent of students met or exceeded standards on the ISAT while 51 percent did the same on the PSAE.

“This should bring it a little closer into line,” Schlichter said.

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