School report cards: Why more suburban schools are labeled failing

Illinois State Board of Education releases statewide school report cards

  • Algebra 2 Trigonometry teacher Alison Nardini of Warren Township High School Almond Road Campus. Warren improved on the Prairie State Achievement Exam on state report card.

      Algebra 2 Trigonometry teacher Alison Nardini of Warren Township High School Almond Road Campus. Warren improved on the Prairie State Achievement Exam on state report card. Bob Chwedyk | Staff Photographer

Updated 10/31/2013 8:22 AM

More than 600 schools statewide joined the ranks of those failing to meet standards, according to the 2013 Illinois School Report Card released today by the Illinois State Board of Education.

Nearly 600 schools made the grade, while 3,169 are deemed failures, according to the state.


Suburban school districts saw significant, yet expected, drops from the previous year in the percentages of students "meeting" or "exceeding" state standards in reading and mathematics.

The decline is largely due to a change in the way the state board grades standardized tests. The 2013 state report card results released Thursday incorporates the more rigorous Common Core State Standards, and higher performance expectations on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test with different benchmarks to better align with the Prairie State Achievement Exam, given to 11th-graders.

Also included in the state report card is a new growth metric showing how much progress individual students or schools made from one year to the next.

Common Core -- a multistate initiative adopted thus far by 45 states, the District of Columbia and four territories -- sets grade-by-grade benchmarks for reading and math skills that students must master from kindergarten through high school.

It is not mandated by the federal government nor tied to the No Child Left Behind Act. But the federal government has tied education funding to adoption of the standards.

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The state board also set the bar higher on the ISAT math and reading proficiency expectations. That test, which third- through eighth-graders take each year, also changed, with 20 percent of questions aligned to tougher Common Core standards. These changes to the grading scale are meant to help Illinois students meet rigorous standards for college and career readiness.

As a result, ISAT reading and math scores dropped anywhere from the single digits up to 55 percentage points across suburban school districts from Antioch to Naperville. It's a statewide trend as the overall composite for elementary students meeting and exceeding standards on the ISAT dropped roughly 20 percentage points -- from 82.1 in 2012 to 61.9 this year, with science scores included.

The state board has yet to adopt new science standards and has not raised performance expectations for that portion of the ISAT, administered to fourth- and seventh-graders.

Educators stress that lower scores don't mean more students are failing.

"It doesn't mean that a student has any different knowledge," said Suzanne Colombe, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at Elgin Area School District U-46, which saw between 20 and 32 percentage-point decreases in ISAT reading and math scores.


Colombe said the drop in scores is nothing to be alarmed about, and district officials have been preparing parents for the change since new cut scores were put in place.

"(With) the old ISAT cut scores, you could actually meet state standards being in the 30th percentile. Now you have to be at the 55th percentile," Colombe said.

While U-46 administrators are reviewing how to better adapt curriculum and instruction to meet the new standards, individual schools are refining their own internal measurements, she added.

"Teachers are really going to focus on formative assessments that are ongoing. (The report card) gives us trend data in subjects and areas," Colombe said. "This is just one measure of student achievement. We don't want to take one measure and use that to change curriculum."

It's the same story elsewhere, including in West Chicago Elementary District 33 and Addison Elementary District 4, where meet-or-exceed scores for some schools fell between 25 and 40 percentage points.

However, report card scores don't look bleak for all.

The statewide composite score for the PSAE, given to 11th-graders, increased from 51.3 in 2012 to 51.9 in 2013. Cutoff scores were not raised for the PSAE test, which includes the ACT college entrance exam.

High schools in Lake County made significant gains in meeting or exceeding standards. An analysis of the 13 high schools in the Daily Herald's coverage area found that 12 showed improvement while one stayed the same compared to PSAE composite scores from 2012.

Dundee-Crown, Hampshire and Jacobs high schools showed improvement over the previous year in 11th-grade reading and math scores -- between 2 and 11 percentage points in most cases except at Hampshire, whose math scores dropped 3.7 percentage points. Science scores for 11th-graders showed modest declines, the highest of which was again at Hampshire at 5.9 percentage points.

Ben Churchill, Community District 300 assistant superintendent for high schools, attributed the reading and math gains to exceptional teachers, but he couldn't explain why science scores fell. "We're going to be looking into performance in all of our areas, and in those cases where we've remained flat and have seen a decrease, we'll certainly try to identify those causes," he said.

Tougher next year

Educators warn test scores will look a lot worse as a new exam for reading and math rolls out in the 2014-15 academic year tied 100 percent to Common Core.

But some good news is that the state is shifting its evaluation of schools from the hard metric of Adequate Yearly Progress -- a measurement defined by the No Child Left Behind Act determining whether a school is failing or passing -- to one more focused on individual student growth and overall school improvement.

"The AYP and the relevance is certainly diminishing," U-46's Colombe said. "Right now, it's almost nonexistent the number of schools making AYP."

The growth value tables award more points to students who maintain or increase achievement, showing how much academic progress students made from one year to the next in reading and math. It has four performance levels: academic warning, below standards, meets standards, and exceeds standards. The growth score, being reported merely as an advisory this year, indicates the average amount of growth for students per school or district.

This year, 1,823 schools, or 63 percent, showed positive growth in reading, and 1,620 schools, or 56 percent, showed positive growth in math, said Mary O'Brien, ISBE director of assessment.

"The AYP is a one-time snapshot," she said, "but the growth metric is like a video over time of student growth."


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