Illinois school report cards: Scores down in more than half our schools

More than half the 615 suburban schools surveyed by the Daily Herald show declining scores on the state's standardized test, data released Monday reveals.

The range of scores is dramatic: Between 6 percent and 77 percent of elementary and middle school students throughout Cook, DuPage, Kane, Lake and McHenry counties are meeting or exceeding expectations for proficiency; between 11 percent and 38 percent are “approaching” those standards, per the 2016 Illinois School Report Card.

Similarly for suburban high schoolers, between 6 percent and 70 percent are meeting readiness benchmarks for college coursework. Students approaching expectations range between 19 percent and 38 percent, the data show.

These results are from the 2015-16 Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test administered this spring to third- through 10th-graders. The two-year-old test's assessments in English language arts/literacy and mathematics are based on the more rigorous Common Core State Standards and replace previous standardized tests.

The test focuses on students' mastery of key concepts, critical thinking and writing skills. It aims to give teachers, schools, students and parents a better idea of whether students are on track in their learning and for success after high school. It also is meant to help teachers customize learning to meet student needs.

More students took the test this year — up from 95.6 percent last year to 97.5 percent.

Learn about your school. Click here to find all the vital stats and analysis of the 2016 Illinois School Report Cards that help you understand more about your school and schools across the state.
Among elementary schools surveyed, more of them fell in the meets/exceeds category #8212; the average high score is 59.7 percent #8212; than those that fell below standards shy;#8212; the average score on the low end is 29.4 percent. Fewer high schools scored above the state average for meets/exceeds shy;#8212; among those the average high score is 48 percent shy;#8212; while the average score for those who ranked below standards is 24.9 percent.State education officials concede the PARCC test provides only a snapshot in time of student performance, while suburban educators question whether the state's standards are accurate because the results don't correlate with other assessments. The 2016 report card includes finalized statewide, district-level and school-level data on an array of areas, such as student demographics, teacher and administrator salaries and spending per pupil. This year, there are some new categories, such as teacher attendance; figures on students earning college credit through Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and dual credit courses; students taking career technical courses; and documenting numbers of students taking six or seven years to finish high school.Statewide, students meeting or exceeding math proficiency increased from 28.2 percent to 30.5 percent, while students meeting or exceeding English language arts proficiency dipped from 37.7 percent to 36.2 percent. State education officials say too many students still are unprepared for college-level rigor. #8220;During the 2015-16 school year, our Report Card indicators mostly held steady #8212; a testament to the commitment and resourcefulness of educators and administrators across the state, who deeply felt our state's education funding challenges,#8221; State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said. #8220;Yet, while some students are achieving at remarkable levels, the majority of the generation of students entrusted to us are unprepared for the world of work and for meaningful participation in our communities ... we must make major changes to the way we fund our public schools and fundamentally shift our approach to education.#8221;For instance, high school graduates enrolled in Illinois community colleges who need remedial courses increased from 48.7 percent to 49.4 percent between 2013 and 2014, the latest report shows.Partial pictureTopping the list of high-achieving suburban elementary schools is Half Day School in Lincolnshire, where 84.3 percent of students meet/exceed standards and 11 percent of students approach expectations. For high schools, the leader is Vernon Hills High School where 69.7 percent of students are meeting/exceeding standards and 18.5 percent are approaching expectations.But what's missing from the data likely has more significance for classroom teachers. The state has yet to release growth metrics showing how much progress individual students or schools made from one year to the next. Suburban educators warn against taking PARCC scores at face value as a gauge of how schools are faring. #8220;Just because the number is not a positive number, it doesn't mean students in that particular school are not growing,#8221; said Laura Hill, director of assessments for Elgin Area School District U-46. #8220;We use other metrics as well to determine whether or not students are growing. We put a lot of emphasis in U-46 on building basically a portfolio to understand where (students) are within that learning continuum.#8221;U-46, the state's second-largest school district with a diverse population of more than 40,000 students, finds 27 percent of students meeting/exceeding expectations in math, while 31 percent meet/exceed expectations in English language arts/literacy.Educators stress the PARCC exam is a different kind of test aligned to national assessments of readiness. Some say changes to the test this spring #8212; only one testing window and a shorter test from the previous year #8212; when some students boycotted or purposely tanked on the test might have affected scores. Testing time for most students was 90 minutes shorter, and it was a simpler format. Also, a greater percentage of students #8212; 85 percent versus the previous year's 75 percent #8212; took the test online statewide.Switching to an online test saved the state some money but may have hurt scores, said Fred Heid, superintendent of Algonquin-based Community Unit District 300 where officials are seeing double-digit dips in reading scores across the board. #8220;If this is the type of result that we can expect, the state better ante up because we are not doing anything next year but paper and pencil (tests),#8221; Heid said.Some schools officials flatly dismiss the relevance of PARCC scores at the high school level because the state has dropped the test for high schoolers this year in favor of a revised SAT college admission exam for all juniors.#8220;Frankly we're not really looking at the PARCC scores at high school because it's going away,#8221; said Karen Sullivan, superintendent of Indian Prairie Unit District 204. #8220;This is the last time you'll see them. We feel the ACT or the SAT is much more significant.#8221;Previously, Illinois high schools were required to administer the ACT, which had been provided for free to 11th-graders for 15 years. Illinois stopped funding the ACT and will provide the SAT at no cost to school districts this school year. #8220;The state took a perfectly good and fair measurement tool, the ACT, and replaced it with something with significant flaws, the PARCC,#8221; said Jim Conrey, spokesman for Adlai E. Stevenson High School District 125 in Lincolnshire. #8220;With the ACT, all 11th-grade students at every school in the state took the test, so you had some basis for comparison in terms of results. With PARCC, there was no basis for comparison, because schools could determine who they wanted to take the test, and what type of test to take.#8220;The state's mandate to administer the SAT exam to all juniors means that all schools are at least playing by the same rules. This will give a more reliable indicator of how students are doing throughout Illinois.#8221;High schools, though, will have the option of voluntarily offering PARCC testing in high schools this school year at the state's expense.Meanwhile, students in third through eighth grades will continue to take that assessment through the 2017-18 school year and likely beyond.

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