70% of Illinois students not meeting standardized test expectations
Roughly 70 percent of Illinois students tested online last spring are not meeting expectations in mathematics and English literacy, partial standardized test results released Wednesday show.
That's a scary number, but not entirely unexpected, say state education officials who have been warning student scores will be low in this first year of a new test.
"These initial score results are simply a new baseline from which we will move forward," State Superintendent Tony Smith said in a news release.
Illinois administered its first round of PARCC -- Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers -- tests last spring.
The results came after the Illinois State Board of Education approved performance levels and proficiency thresholds for the test -- based on the more rigorous Common Core State Standards.
PARCC assessments in mathematics and English language arts/literacy are aimed at giving teachers, schools, students and parents better information about whether students are on track for college and career readiness.
Roughly 75 percent of all test takers statewide took the test online.
Results were broken down into five categories: Level 1, student did not meet academic expectations; Level 2, student partially met expectations; Level 3, student approached expectations; Level 4, student met expectations; and Level 5, student exceeded expectations. Levels 4 and 5 are considered proficient.
Statewide aggregate results show 26 to 36 percent of students in third through eighth grades met expectations in math, while 33 to 38 percent of students in those grades met expectations in English language arts/literacy.
Meanwhile, only 5 percent of third-graders exceeded expectations in math, while 2 percent exceeded expectations in English language arts/literacy.
The percentage of students meeting expectations was lowest at the high school level. In math, it was 17 percent, and 31 percent for English language arts/literacy.
Those percentages are aggregated due to the low volume of students tested in particular courses. School districts were allowed to choose which assessments to administer by grade level at the high schools.
"While these reports may appear lower than what educators and families typically expect, the PARCC assessment sets new goals for our students using higher expectations that are aligned to the scope of the Illinois Learning Standards," Smith said. "Therefore, lower proficiency scores do not mean that our schools are performing worse or that students are learning less or not as capable. The change is simply a reflection of how statewide assessments have evolved to meet higher standards that promote college and career readiness in the 21st century for all students."
Officials at Elgin Area School District U-46, the state's second-largest school district with more than 40,000 students, said it's too soon to worry about the first set of numbers.
"This is preliminary, baseline data on a new assessment that sets a new bar for meeting and exceeding standards, and these sorts of results give us broad strokes ideas of how well students performed," said Mary Fergus, U-46 spokeswoman. "The more meaningful data will come in a couple of years when we see how well students are progressing compared to this baseline data."
Though PARCC is an entirely different test based on much more rigorous standards than its predecessor -- the Illinois Standards Achievement Test -- the drop in the percentage of students meeting and exceeding standards from previous years is steep.
For example, fifth-graders meeting and exceeding math standards dropped by 37.4 percentage points compared to 2014 ISAT results -- on average students in third through eighth grades dropped 31 percentage points in math. In high school, that difference is a decline of 35.3 percentage points.
The sharpest decline in elementary English language arts/literacy was 24.3 percentage points for sixth-graders. Students in third through eighth grades on average dropped 21.1 percentage points. High schoolers' results saw a drop of 25.3 percentage points.
However, state educators have cautioned against comparing this year's PARCC results to test scores from previous assessments.
"The PARCC exam is a drastically different test that uses extended tasks and technology-enhanced items to more accurately measure students' critical thinking, problem solving, and writing skills, which are all necessary for students to succeed in their education and/or career field after high school," Smith said. "We fully expect results to improve as teachers and students become more familiar with these higher standards."
District-specific, school and individual student scores are not available as yet. Complete report card data may not be released until late November.
That delay "has been a concern of ours for many years," said Brad Newkirk, Batavia Unit District 101 assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction.
He called the state test an "academic autopsy" on students and said the district prefers to be "proactive" when using data to assess students, focusing more on MAP assessments, which are given three times a year with immediate results.
"It's much more valuable than a once-a-year test" for helping students, Newkirk said.
Some educators were not surprised by how few students met or exceeded expectations.
"We're interested in taking a look at how we did on the PARCC, but we're really interested in looking at it from the district level more specifically," said Patrick Nolten, executive director of research and assessment for Indian Prairie Unit District 204.
Nolten said he expects the district's scores from students in parts of Naperville, Aurora, Bolingbrook and Plainfield likely will come in higher than the state average.
"We anxiously await the opportunity to take a look at our own data and use that to make changes or adjustments," he said.
In Glenbard High School District 87, technical glitches may have hurt performance for some students, said Jeffrey Feucht, assistant superintendent for educational services. During the first hour of testing, about 10 percent of students taking the Algebra I PARCC exam had issues and were getting kicked out of the testing server from their iPads. "Everything on our end was working," he said.
Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128 Superintendent Prentiss Lea said the data provides only a "global brush stroke" of how students performed on the test.
"As a result, we will continue to use ACT, SAT, Advanced Placement and local assessment data to drive school improvement planning," Lea said.
Stevenson High School spokesman Jim Conrey called the data "absolutely useless."
"It fails," he added, "to provide us with any meaningful data."
• Daily Herald staff writers Russell Lissau, Susan Sarkauskas, Katlyn Smith and Marie Wilson contributed to this report.