State test scores drop in most suburban schools, but changes coming

  • Third-grade English language arts teacher Kathy Hansen quizzes students Monday at Centennial Elementary School. The Bartlett school's students have shown consistent growth on the PARCC test.

      Third-grade English language arts teacher Kathy Hansen quizzes students Monday at Centennial Elementary School. The Bartlett school's students have shown consistent growth on the PARCC test. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Rachel Cropper is ready to answer a question posed by her third-grade teacher at Centennial Elementary School in Bartlett.

      Rachel Cropper is ready to answer a question posed by her third-grade teacher at Centennial Elementary School in Bartlett. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • Centennial Elementary School third graders work on reading comprehension Monday in Bartlett.

      Centennial Elementary School third graders work on reading comprehension Monday in Bartlett. Rick West | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 10/31/2017 1:16 PM

Standardized test scores declined at a majority of suburban elementary and middle schools, while high schools have no historic reference for such achievement testing, according to 2017 Illinois School Report Card data released today.

Roughly two-thirds of Illinois students are not meeting expectations on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test administered to third- through eighth-graders last school year. And of 540 suburban schools surveyed by the Daily Herald, 309 schools saw declines in the number of students meeting and exceeding proficiency; 220 schools showed improvement, and 11 remained flat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

High school juniors, meanwhile, took the revised SAT college entrance exam for the first time last school year. And on that test, proficiency benchmarks are different between the state and those recommended by the SAT itself.

Statewide, student performance improved in English language arts on the PARCC test, though math scores dipped slightly. There were gains in four-year graduation and college enrollment rates and other areas, said Tony Smith, state superintendent of education, at a media briefing Monday.



View schools with lead2017 Illinois School Report Cards: Find all the vital data for your school and district, plus lists of the top schools in the state. Click here for 2017 school report cards.



Results are from the third year the controversial PARCC test has been used to measure student performance, and it continues to draw criticism.

"How can you consistently gauge how students are performing?" Community Unit District 300 Superintendent Fred Heid said. "There's still a lot of questions that PARCC and state have to answer in order to solidify and build trust in this data. They have to report it faster. It should be used to move kids, hire staff, to better support different program implementation. How the heck do I change course midyear? Parents see the score and they are struggling with what it means. Next year is where the rubber hits the road."

Heid suggested some scores dipped because of the switch to online testing. Other educators say special education and gifted students might have skewed the numbers at some schools.

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Next year is when the assessment process will be torn up again. PARCC and SAT testing are likely to continue, but such standardized tests will be only one part of a new accountability system that will include academic growth, success on college entrance tests and other factors.

Standards too high?

Illinois began statewide PARCC testing in March 2015 of students in third through 11th grades in English language arts and math. At the time, it was administered over two testing periods as performance-based and end-of-year assessments. A year later, the test was shortened and taken at one time.

Suburban educators who favored tried-and-tested college entrance exams to PARCC prompted the state to drop the test in high schools. The revamped SAT was given last school year after the state stopped funding its predecessor, the ACT college entrance test -- administered for free to juniors for 15 years.

The state's minimum SAT score to meet college readiness -- 540 for both math and reading and writing, or a composite 1,080 -- is higher than the College Board's SAT college readiness benchmarks -- 480 in reading and writing and 530 in math, a 1,010 composite.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Of 75 suburban high schools surveyed, 62 schools scored above the state's average of 38 percent of students deemed college ready. Sixty-two suburban high schools' composite scores met SAT's benchmark of 1,010, but only 39 schools met or exceeded the state's guideline of 1,080.

For some educators, the state's SAT standards for college readiness are too high.

"If you look at the ACT, it used to be if your kids scored between 19 and 21 they met state standards," said Scott Helton, superintendent of DuPage High School District 88. "That equates to a 1,010 on an SAT. To meet state standards, our kids need to be in the top one-third of the country. Eventually we need to get out of attainment and measure growth."

Northwest Suburban High School District 214 Superintendent David Schuler, an outspoken critic of PARCC, said he was relieved the transition to the SAT has been seamless. During the first year of PARCC, the district had some of the highest percentage of students -- more than 80 percent at some schools -- refusing to take the exam.

Despite promising SAT scores -- the district's six high schools scored between 40 percent and 72 percent of students meeting and exceeding SAT standards -- the district continue efforts to redefine what it means to be college ready by helping students graduate with college credit, industry credentials and apprenticeships or internships.

"We are not going to let one test define us," Schuler said. "We believe in a multi-metric approach in our district. I'm much more concerned with how successful our students are after graduation than how many of our students graduate."

New accountability

A new measure, the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, starts in August 2018 and gives more weight to student growth and graduation rates.

Signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2015, it replaces the federal No Child Left Behind Act that served as a benchmark for 14 years. That law drew considerable criticism for its emphasis on test scores, its labeling of some school districts as "failing" and its punitive nature for schools not making the grade.

Illinois is "moving to an era where it's not just sorting and ranking to punish," state superintendent Smith said. The focus rather will be on "who is doing well so we can learn."

School quality will be measured through standardized tests, alternative assessments, academic growth, English language proficiency, science scores, success on college entrance tests and graduation rates, as well as factors such as chronic absenteeism and school climate surveys. Funding and support would be provided to schools struggling the most.

"They have actually tried to look at the whole child, as well looking at other indicators," said Erika Schlichter, assistant superintendent for learning and innovation for Huntley Community School District 158. "It's a good change. It makes us more well-rounded. There just needs to be a combination of metrics. (PARCC) gives us a piece of the pie, not the entire pie."

Meanwhile, the state's contract with PARCC ends June 30. Some educators suggest the backlash against it has been so strong that it is likely to be replaced with another standardized assessment.

But Smith said the test is staying.

"Currently, PARCC is the highest-rated assessment ever," he said. "There is no intention to stop using the assessment of readiness. We are all in with PARCC."

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