State Board of Education raises testing standards
SPRINGFIELD -- The Illinois State Board of Education voted Thursday to raise the curve on standardized tests taken by elementary and middle school students.
The new standards will make it harder for students to be considered proficient in reading and math, starting with tests to be given this spring, but ISBE officials said the results will more accurately represent how prepared a student is for college or a career.
“It is raising the bar, it is getting us ready,” said State School Superintendent Chris Koch at the state board’s monthly meeting Thursday.
Some area school superintendents criticized the timing of the change, in the wake of state funding cuts, and said it will send the wrong message to parents and the public.
“The hardest part of it all is they are telling us a year and a half in advance that everybody’s going to fail,” said Williamsville School Superintendent David Root.
The new standards are designed to mirror those of a new test that will replace the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in 2014.
The new test, called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers assessment, will use the rigorous Common Core standards that Illinois also will officially adopt that year. School districts are already toward aligning their curriculums to Common Core.
The ISAT has not proved to be a “strong indicator of college and career readiness,” ISBE spokeswoman Mary Fergus said, noting that more students score well on ISAT tests than on the Prairie State Achievement Exam, which is given in 11th grade.
“We’ve seen this disconnect for a while and wanted to remedy it,” Fergus said. “We wanted to give districts as clear a picture as we can now of student performance as they move toward the new assessments. We’re giving this information now so they can prepare for it.”
Students will have to boost their ISAT scores by 13 to 17 points in reading and 21 to 30 points in math to be considered proficient under the new standards.
ISAT results last year showed 79 percent of third- through eighth-grade students scored proficient in reading and 86 percent in mathematics, Fergus wrote in a news release. If the new standards had been in effect, those numbers would have fallen to 60 percent in both categories, she said.
“This drop is a result of raising expectations, not a reflection of student or teacher performance,” she wrote.
Rochester School Superintendent Tom Bertrand said the percentage of Rochester third-graders falling short in math would have increased from 1 percent to 25 percent if the new standards had been effect last year.
Bertrand and Root also said the timing of the new standards couldn’t be worse.
“The State of Illinois dehydrates us, and then ISBE turns around and forces us to run a further and faster race in scorching heat without any water to drink,” Root said.
“School districts across the state face historic cuts in state funding, coupled with an overwhelming increase in state mandates, rules and regulations,” he said. “This latest decision by ISBE illustrates the complete disconnect that has developed between the agency and the dedicated school administrators and teachers who work every day with the children in our school districts.”
Fergus defended the ISBE’s action.
“We know that this can be difficult, but we also know that it’s the right thing to do to give accurate information about where students are performing,” she said.
The ISBE has prepared sample letters for schools to send to parents and for administrators to send to teachers to explain why students’ scores will probably drop.
Root said the situation would “almost be comical” if it wasn’t so serious.
“It’s almost like they (think) you’re going to improve instruction based on public embarrassment,” he said. “We can’t be cutting people and programs and help these kids at the same time.”
Molly Beck can be reached at (217) 788-1526. Follow her at twitter.com/MollyBeckSJR.