As ISAT tests toughen, D90 students' scores fall

Common Core demands more of students, including harder standardized testing

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By Deb Kadin

A more rigorous test and tougher proficiency standards accounted for lower standardized test scores last year for River Forest's District 90 students.

About 20 percent of the items on this year's Illinois Standard Achievement, or ISAT, test contained questions that were aligned with Common Core, according to district officials. It is expected that there will be 100 percent Common Core Items in the March 2014 ISAT.

Common Core, which District 90 has begun implementing and is being carried out in other school districts nationwide, sets out an ambitious set of goals for math, reading and writing skills that children should acquire as they move through school. The specific skills that students will be asked to demonstrate build in complexity from grade to grade.

In addition, the bar, or cut score, students had to reach to meet designated levels of proficiency was higher. That made it more difficult for students to meet or exceed standards in various subject areas, said Martha Ryan-Toye, the district's director of student services.

In addition, the state has set an ever-higher goal that districts must reach to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP, under No Child Left Behind. Last year 92.5 percent of District 90 students had to meet or exceed annual performance targets in reading and math.

A series of corrective sanctions could be leveled against the district if the standards aren't met and the district fails to meet AYP for two consecutive years.

District 90 has had a long history of success and stability in standardized testing. But last year, scores declined 9 percent from where they had been the year before. The only school that made AYP was Lincoln. Willard and Roosevelt Middle School, which had been designated a Blue Ribbon school for academic achievement, did not reach AYP.

In a recent presentation to the school board, Ryan-Toye agreed with and reiterated a statement from the state superintendent of education Christopher Koch. "By raising performance expectations on ISATs, we are seeing a drop in 2013 test scores….This does not mean that students know less or that teachers don't provide good instruction, but it does give us an earlier indication of where students perform in terms of college and career readiness," he said.

Ryan-Toye noted that success rates did not look the same because the old ISAT test was not as rigorous.

Comparing test results would be difficult because the tests are different. The best method of measuring student performance is to follow individual or grade level groups – or cohorts -- of students.

"ISAT is not the most important indicator (of student progress)," she said. "There are the results of classroom and district assessments, and that's how we know kids are progressing and learning what they need to know."


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