St. Charles, Geneva schools among Fox PARCC best
Schools in St. Charles and Geneva were among the top performers among 16 districts in the Kane and McHenry County area on the state-mandated standardized test.
The new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test was given in the spring.
Bell-Graham Elementary School in St. Charles Unit District 303 topped the list, with 72.4 percent of students tested meeting or exceeding the standards set by the state to indicate whether they are on track to be ready for college and careers. Others in the top 10 were Grace McWayne Elementary in Batavia Unit District 101; Wild Rose, Corron and Ferson Creek elementary and Haines Middle schools in District 303; Geneva High, Geneva Middle School South and Fabyan and Western Avenue elementary schools in Geneva Unit District 304.
But if you add in the numbers of kids in the new Level 3 "approaching" the "meets or exceeds" standards, the top 10 list changes. Bell-Graham is still at the top, with 93.5 percent. But Fred Rodgers Magnet Academy in East Aurora Unit District 131 joins the list, with a score of 91 percent, as does Norton Creek Elementary School in District 303 and Woods Creek Elementary in Crystal Lake Community Consolidated District 47.
Students who scored in Level 3, though not meeting or exceeding all standards, are not failing, either. They may be struggling in some aspects of the tests, but with the proper supports could be successful in college or careers, educators say.
In Elgin School District U-46, the second-biggest district in the state with more than 40,000 students, Eastview Middle School was tops, with 60.6 percent of students meeting/exceeding standards and 22.9 percent approaching expectations.
Among districts north of St. Charles, the top scores were at Central Unit School District 301's Central Middle School, Dundee Unit District 300's Kenneth E. Neubert Elementary School, Huntley Unit District 158's Conley Elementary School, and Woods Creek.
This year at the high-school level, comparing how schools performed is not unlike comparing apples to oranges to peas. Some schools tested freshmen, some sophomores, some juniors. The tests were tailored to what courses students were enrolled in. For mathematics, for example, schools could pick from six tests to administer.
Throw in that some schools' curriculum did not line up with the Common Core standards on which the high school tests were based, so not all kids in the chosen course were tested.
That was the case in Geneva, which gave the Algebra I test. But 30.6 percent of students enrolled in Algebra I did not take the test. About 8 percent of those students take Algebra I over two years, according to the district spokeswoman, Kristy Poteete-Kriegermeier. The rest were coded as "absent for testing."
In contrast. neighboring Batavia High School administered the Algebra II test. And only 0.9 percent of the students in Algebra II did not take the test.
The high school with the most students ranked as meeting or exceeding state standards for a composite score was Geneva, with 66.1 percent. Among the 23 high schools, Kaneland was last, at 9.1 percent.
"The results do not accurately reflect the expected performance and academic capabilities of our high school students," Kaneland Unit District 302 Superintendent Todd Leden said. He said the majority of Kaneland juniors opted out of the test. They may have also have had test fatigue, since they were preparing for Advanced Placement tests and final exams, Leden said.
"Once we have individual test results for students, we will take some time to compare students' scores to other academic data such as ACT scores and their grade-point average as an internal auditing mechanism to gauge effort and preparedness," Leden said.
This school year, Kaneland will switch to testing students in Algebra I and English 9, who primarily are freshmen. "The district believes that this will provide a more valuable set of data for students in grades 3-9 and will relieve the assessment burden on our juniors," Leden said.
Geneva Superintendent Kent Mutchler said the district hasn't completely determined whether the tests match up with what the district is teaching, nor has he heard from state officials about how the scoring levels were determined. And, he noted, the district is forbidden by state law from using the PARCC results for evaluating school and teacher performance.
"We're trying to figure out what to use to show (school) improvement," he said.
Andy Barrett, the district's assistant superintendent for learning and teaching, pointed out that in the past, the state would send data to the district to have it check for errors, before releasing reports. It did the opposite this year, he said.
Mutchler and Barrett said they expect the process to improve in 2016. For one thing, the test will be administered in just one time period -- at about the three-quarter mark of the school year. Barrett said he thinks that will allow the state to get test results processed and released faster. It also will enable districts to review them a few months earlier, for purposes of tweaking instruction.
Laura Hill, director of assessment and accountability at U-46, attributes the decline in the number of students meeting and exceeding standards, compared to previous tests, to PARCC assessments being tougher.
Schools with the poorest scores also have the most disadvantaged students, she added.
Hill said Illinois also has set the bar pretty high compared to some PARCC states -- in Ohio students who score at Level 3, "approaching," are considered meeting standards.
As for understanding the scores, officials say they need more analysis and to dig deeper into the data released this week.
"This is so new to everybody," Hill said.
Despite ongoing criticism from many suburban educators, Hill still believes in the test's potential for comparing students' results statewide and among the 11 states that have adopted PARCC.
"We are a ways away from that," she said. "Was everybody ready for PARCC and its online assessment? No. The assessment itself, it's just not moving as quickly as people would have anticipated and hoped."
For now, U-46 educators are focusing on the highlights of this report card. For example, 33.5 percent of eighth-graders in the district passed algebra compared to the state average, 28.4 percent.
"We have a fairly low percentage of students (2 percent) who did not take the assessment," Hill said. "We weren't in that opting-out movement."
Hill said officials are going to work on making sure curriculum is aligned with PARCC assessments, and that students have the practice, endurance and skills to take the test entirely online in future.
"As a district and as a state we are trying to avoiding looking at one snapshot," Hill said. "You want to improve performance, but this is one measure that you have. The best measure that we have is more frequent local assessments. The story will be told in a couple of years when we get more (PARCC) trend data."
• Daily Herald staff writer Madhu Krishnamurthy contributed to this story.