Incomplete state test results frustrate suburban schools
Mountains of demographic data, ACT scores and a new way to mark math competence among schoolchildren throughout Illinois are among highlights of the Illinois Report Card, released by the state Thursday.
It is the second -- and not final -- batch of information to be released this fall, providing the public and school administrators with information about how their districts, schools and individual students fared academically. In prior years, all information was released in one batch.
And the data most suburban educators have been waiting for -- results from new standardized tests administered last spring -- still hasn't been released.
That test, Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC, may be used by the state to phase out the traditional ACT test as a benchmark of college-readiness. Illinois is among 11 states using the PARCC exam, which is based on tougher Common Core standards put together by several states and endorsed by the federal government.
"It is much too early to draw meaningful conclusions for school districts or individual students," said Rita Fischer, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for Libertyville-Vernon Hills Area High School District 128.
Fischer noted that the first wave of data in September included PARCC scores only of students who took the test online, or about 75 percent. The balance of students took a pencil-and-paper test. Additionally, because the PARCC test is course-based, only students taking specific classes took the test -- as opposed to previous standardized exams, mainly the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, that were administered to all students.
"For example, the Algebra I test is taken primarily by freshmen," Fischer said. "However, many of our freshmen take more advanced math classes and therefore did not participate in PARCC testing."
Even so, Fischer found some good news in the latest report.
"The report card data indicates the strength of District 128 programs as indicated by multiple measures of student success," she said. "Our graduation rate, freshman-on-track-to-graduate rate, and college- and career-readiness indicators are well above state averages."
The lack of data on how students scored on mathematics, reading, writing and science tests "puts us in a really tough spot" as to what to tell parents and the community, said Andrew Barrett, the assistant superintendent for learning and teaching for the Geneva Unit District 304.
It also means Geneva officials can't make plans based on the test results for changes in curriculum or instruction that would affect how students do on next year's state assessment, he said. In years past, the district has had the report-card data by the end of October or early November.
A spokesman for the state board of education said it has not received all the data yet from Pearson, its test vendor, and it doesn't have a timeline for further releases.
So, Geneva administrators, like others, are using different assessments to gauge students' abilities and needs, and to make school-improvement plans.
New in this year's report card are rundowns on the percentage of eighth-grade students passing algebra.
That benchmark is puzzling, said Barrett, who called it "a very confusing and dubious piece of information to share," and said the state is "kind of pulling (the numbers) out of thin air."
• Daily Herald staff writer Russell Lissau contributed to this report.
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