State officials: No more 'failing' schools this year

Updated 10/31/2014 6:39 AM

There are no more "failing" schools in Illinois, state education officials say.

The 2014 Illinois Report Card released today instead gives credit for students making some type of year-to-year progress in test scores measured by a new academic "growth metric."


Under the previous measure of Adequate Yearly Progress, every school in Illinois would have been dubbed as "failing" this year. But the state received a waiver from many aspects of the federal No Child Left Behind mandate, including not having to report AYP.

"I think we probably were labeling too many schools as either being successful or failing in the past using crude (measurements)," State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said. "We were using a single score of achievement at one point in time that was more heavily consequential for schools."

To that end, the state report card reflects a national trend of evaluating schools on multiple measures of growth and performance, including how well educators are able to narrow achievement gaps or improve graduation rates. The data also include a cornucopia of information about student achievement through test scores, demographics, teacher and administrator salaries for every school in Illinois.

This year's report includes new categories, such as teacher and principal retention, percentage of freshmen on track for college, how students feel about their school's environment, college readiness, and enrollment rates in two- and four-year colleges.

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"This information is crucial as we move to a new accountability system based on updated learning standards, higher performance expectations and more useful assessments, all focused on college and career readiness," Koch said.

Per the state's new "growth" measure, 43.8 percent of schools statewide -- 1,208 -- scored above a baseline of 100 in reading, while 64.6 percent of schools -- 1,790 -- scored above 100 in mathematics. The state's average growth scores for reading and math this year are 99.4 and 102.9, respectively. The state's overall reading score declined from 102.1 in 2013, while the math score increased from 101.4 in 2013.

Any score above 100 indicates a school is improving, but those that score below the state average are not considered failing; rather they are growing at a slower pace, said Mary O'Brien, state director of assessment.

Of the 530 suburban schools examined by the Daily Herald, 273 increased their Illinois Standards Achievement Test composite score from the previous year, while 250 declined and seven schools stayed the same. The composite shows the percentages of students "meeting" or "exceeding" state standards in reading and math.


ISAT scores swung more than 30 percentage points in each direction for third-grade reading, while third-grade math scores fluctuated from a 33-percentage-point upswing to a 37-percentage-point drop. Eighth-grade reading scores swung from a 10-percentage-point increase to a 20-point drop, while math scores soared up to 36 points and dipped down to 22 points.

Educators say declines are largely due to the state fully incorporating Common Core state standards, which sets grade-by-grade benchmarks for reading and math skills that students must master from kindergarten through high school. Another factor is higher performance expectations on the ISAT, taken by third- through eighth-graders, with different benchmarks for math and reading proficiency to better align with the Prairie State Achievement Exam, given to 11th-graders.

Among 76 school districts within the Daily Herald coverage area, 44 saw ISAT composite scores increase from the previous year, while scores declined at 31 districts. PSAE composite scores increased at 21 school districts, while 16 districts saw a drop.

Yet, those results may soon become moot as the tests are being replaced this spring with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams.

"We do expect performance (levels) to drop next year with the new assessments," Koch said. "That doesn't mean our schools are doing worse. We've better calibrated what learning should be and also learning standards."

The new assessment was field-tested this year on 110,000 students statewide. It goes beyond the typical multiple-choice questions, measuring students' critical thinking skills. Most students will take the test online, though it will be offered on paper this spring for schools that don't have the technological infrastructure.

"We believe PARCC will provide the most relevant data for students and teachers because it is completely aligned with the Illinois State Learning Standards," Koch said. "The AYP designation alone wasn't really healthy as far as making a determination about a school. It's just not that simple. I'm glad we're moving away from that."

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