By Terry Dean
Oak Park elementary and middle school students set to take their annual state standardized tests next month will have to score a little higher in order to meet state standards.
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) recently announced a change in how those tests will be scored, in effect raising the performance level students are expected to achieve.
The immediate result is that students will have to score higher in next month's Illinois Standards and Achievement Test to meet or exceed standards.
The ISATs are taken over several days the first week of March, this year starting on March 4. Third-through-eighth graders are tested in reading, math and within the last couple of years science. ISBE has also released the performance level scores for every grade level in each subject.
Under the new performance levels, a third-graders reading score from 160-206, for example, is now considered "below standards," where last year it would've been above.
The new levels come as the state also looks to better align state tests with the new Common Core standards that's being implemented in Illinois and other states.
Common Core's focus is on college-readiness for students, as well as improving students' critical thinking skills and classroom instruction techniques of teachers. Described as a much more rigorous level of instruction and learning, Common Core has been adopted in 45 states, including Illinois. By 2014, its computer-based, student assessment is expected to replace the annual ISAT s.
The ISBE is also looking to align those assessments with the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) given to high school juniors each spring. The Prairie exam, according to ISBE, includes ACT scores that indicate a student's college-readiness.
"The state is aligning to the ISAT with the PSAE to provide better information about college and career readiness expectations to educators, parents and students," according to an FAQ sent from ISBE to schools across the state.
Oak Park elementary school District 97 and River Forest's District 90 are alerting their respective families about the scoring changes to the ISATs. But if this year's levels were applied to last year's ISAT results, a significant number of students who met or exceeded standards in 2012 would fall well below this year.
In fact, the percentage of students statewide who met or exceeded standards on last year's ISAT would have dropped an average of 22 percent, according to a fact sheet from D90 distributed to their families.
D97, meanwhile, has sent a letter to its families concerning the changes.
"Though more difficult, we believe our students will excel under the rigors of these higher standards, and better position themselves to effectively tackle the college and career challenges that are on the horizon," says D97 Supt. Albert Roberts, who also acknowledged that there will likely be a drop in the percentage of D97 students who meet or exceed standards in this year's ISATs.
Roberts adds, however, that the expected drop is not a reflection of a kid's current ability level or quality of instruction in the district.