Oak Brook, Naperville schools lead DuPage on PARCC
The typically high-achieving districts in DuPage County led the way in students meeting or exceeding expectations on a new state standardized test.
In Butler District 53 in Oak Brook, 78.2 percent of students met or exceeded expectations, while Naperville Unit District 203 saw 63.6 percent of its students meet or exceed and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 had 58.4 percent, according to scores released this week by the Illinois State Board of Education.
These and 17 other districts in DuPage beat the state average of 33 percent meeting and exceeding, and they did so on a new test designed to be more rigorous and to categorize student scores into five performance levels instead of four.
Results from the tougher test, called the PARCC, or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, now include an "approaching expectations" category. The group straddles the gap between students clearly assessed as college- and career-ready -- kids who met or exceeded standards -- and students who clearly aren't there -- those whose performance fell in categories labeled "partially met expectations" or "did not yet meet expectations."
DuPage's top-performing districts also posted up to one-quarter of their students in the new "approaching" category.
Butler District 53 had 17.7 percent, bringing its total of students who approached, met or exceeded standards to 95.9 percent.
"The significant factor for me is that the results show that we have minimal kids at risk of not acquiring the skills to effectively meet the Common Core standards," Superintendent Heidi Wennstrom said.
In Naperville Unit District 203, 22.6 percent approached standards; Indian Prairie Unit District 204 saw 24.9 percent in the approaching category and Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 came in with 24.6. Statewide, 28.4 percent of students scored "approaching" on a composite of math and English literacy tests.
The new standardized test ended all comparison to previous results from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and Prairie State Achievement Exam and drove percentages of successful scores down statewide so now only a third of Illinois students are considered meeting or exceeding.
"It's not just the name of the test. It's how it's designed; it's how it's been connected to what's expected academically," said Patrick Nolten, executive director of assessment, research and evaluation in Indian Prairie Unit District 204. "It's not just a different bubble sheet. It's radically changed."
One big change is at the high school level.
Instead of the state requiring juniors to take standardized exams, administrators chose which students they would put to the test. They chose not by grade level but among nine specific courses in which students were enrolled, such as Algebra 1, Algebra 2 or Trigonometry for the math side and English 1 or 3 for literacy.
In DuPage, the two high schools in Naperville Unit District 203 and the two in Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200 went with English 1 and Algebra 1, typically taken by freshmen, while the three high schools in Indian Prairie Unit District 204 tested students in English 3 and Algebra 2 or Trigonometry.
"High school results are going to be far more difficult to compare across districts," said Jeff Schuler, District 200 superintendent. "You're not dealing with necessarily the same population that was tested."
High schools also have data flaws because in some cases a high percentage of students were not tested. In DuPage, Glenbard East High School in Lombard had the highest percent not tested in math, at 43.2 percent, and reading, at 26.9 percent.
Peg Mannion, Glenbard District 87 community relations coordinator, said many Glenbard East students were not tested in math because they were not in the course in which the test was given. Glenbard tested students in Algebra 1, but about half the freshmen in District 87 are already in a higher-level math class, she said.
Wheaton Warrenville South High School had 26.7 percent not tested in math and 18.1 percent not tested in reading, due in part to the tight time frame to choose which courses of students would sit for exams and in part to students opting out, Schuler said.
At Waubonsie Valley High School, 5.3 percent did not test in math and 10.6 percent in reading, most in District 204. Nolten said his data team is working to determine if these percentages match the district's records. In a district of 26,000 students, he said only about two dozen objectors opted out of the test.
In the first year receiving PARCC results that measure student readiness to progress to the next level, administrators say they're satisfied to see their baseline and create a point from which to improve. They're also hungry for data from subsequent years of testing before they can measure achievement, determine trends and keep helping students grow.
"We're turning right around and getting ready to give the next test in a couple months. We don't have a lot of time to analyze and make changes," said Karen Sullivan, superintendent of Indian Prairie Unit District 204. "But we're working on that."
One new analysis point is the percentage of students classified as "approaching."
"With five performance levels, we feel like they're really trying to give you a better idea of where a student is and what they need to work on to improve," said Malee Farmer, director of research and analytics for Naperville Unit District 203. "The data seems more actionable for teachers."
Schuler said taking note of kids "on the cusp" of understanding can help educators if they don't lose focus on pupils performing at other levels.
"They're right there on the threshold of meeting the standard that we want," Schuler said. "That naturally provides an opportunity to look at how you can help some students grow. But I don't think a state test should only help you focus in on one group of students."
The new categories and their corresponding terminology do one more positive thing, Farmer says. They give teachers language to create a culture of improvement. In the future, that's what data from the new standardized test will measure.
"We focus on the growth mindset in our professional learning -- telling the kids that you may not understand the material now or yet, but you can and you will, with hard work," Farmer said. "It really is the idea that it is achievable."