Eighth-grade students who score well on their ISATs entering Oak Park and River Forest High School as freshmen may not be as prepared for college by their junior year, based on a recent data analysis by OPRF.

A review of test scores for a sampling of students reveal that despite scoring well on the Illinois Standardized Achievement Test in districts 97 and 90, some of those students by their junior year are still not meeting college-readiness benchmarks at OPRF.

In order to identify a student’s college readiness, OPRF uses a set of criteria outlined by ACT as benchmarks. That criteria includes a student earning an A or B in math as sophomores.

For its analysis, the school looked at the scores of juniors who took the ISAT, along with placement test results given to incoming freshmen, and scores from a test called EXPLORE, which OPRF administered to eighth-grade students in Dist. 97 in 2006. Scores from an instructional ACT (IACT) given in April of this year were also reviewed, as were student grade point averages and courses taken as eighth-graders.

The school came up with a student sampling of 108 who met standards on the ISAT.

OPRF’s analysis showed that of this group, only 40 were meeting the benchmarks as juniors. Of those, 37 were white students and three were black. The analysis was the result of a discussion this summer between Dist. 200 administrators and the school board over students who scored well on the ISAT but continue to struggle academically at the high school.

OPRF officials said the school has tried to work with districts 97 and 90 to have better articulation among all three academic programs.

Dist. 200 Supt. Attila J. Weninger said he recently sent a proposal to Dist. 97 on how to improve articulation. Both districts have previously worked on improving articulation in some areas, said Phil Prale, OPRF’s assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Prale said math is one area where the high school has specifically worked with Dist. 97.

“We need to work better as to how math is being taught [and] how algebra, specifically, is being taught because the more algebra students know before they leave the eighth grade, the better they’ll do in our math program,” Prale said. “We need to target our programs more directly and intentionally with those students.”

Prale added that administrators from the high school and Dist. 97 plan to meet later this fall on the issue of articulation.

The recent findings, OPRF officials note, also highlight a problem with some students scoring well on the ISAT but coming in as freshmen still lacking certain skills.

Carl Spight, OPRF’s institutional researcher, estimated that around 20 percent of incoming freshmen, based on the school’s data, come in reading below the eighth-grade level.

“The important point to be made there is that that group with the skill-set deficiencies and deficits are predominantly African-American and/or other minority. In fact, the typical African-American comes in with an important skill deficit with respect to their majority cohort of white students,” said Spight.

Weninger said he wants to know how the reading deficit students have at OPRF matches with the students’ ISAT scores.

“How is it that we have students who are meeting ISAT at eighth grade and yet they’re coming in, 20 percent of them and primarily African American, reading below the eighth-grade level? Where’s the disconnect? This is the question,” he said.

OPRF officials also point out that the ISAT and Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), taken by high school juniors, are not the best way to measure a student’s or a school district’s overall academic performance.

OPRF failed to make adequately yearly progress under No Child Left Behind on this year’s PSAE while Dist. 97 did make AYP on the ISAT, based on preliminary results for each district.

OPRF officials added that the ISAT and PSAE are different exams that test different students.

“To meet AYP is no great achievement,” Spight explained. “We’re still talking about a minority of a group, and of the African-American group in particular, meeting the standards for reading [in Dist. 97]. So to turn that coin over, the majority then of African American students coming in out of Dist. 97, even though they met AYP, don’t meet the standard. You can meet AYP and yet have a majority of the students not meeting the standard.”

CONTACT tdean@wjinc.com

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