The Illinois State Board of Education on Thursday raised the performance levels of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test for elementary and middle school students.
"The board today took a significant step in changing how we measure a student's progress," State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch said in a released statement after the board voted in Springfield. "The lower expectations of the previous performance levels did our students a disservice by not adequately assessing their ability to succeed after high school. The new, higher expectations will provide more accurate information about a child's development and allow us to provide the appropriate supports and interventions earlier in a student's academic career to ensure he or she is on track to enter college or career-training programs."
Raising performance levels of the ISAT means the scores used to determine whether a student exceeds standards, meets standards, is below standards or falls into academic warning, will be altered, said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the State Board of Education.
The ISATs assess third through eighth grade students in math, reading and science each spring.
Shiloh Village School District 85 Superintendent Jennifer Filyaw said the higher expectations on the ISAT will not change what the district is doing.
"The bottom line is we don't teach for a test. We teach for students to have an excellent education and prepare them for high school and post-high school, whether it's college or a career," she said. "We will continue to provide the same outstanding education we always provided."
O'Fallon School District 90 Superintendent Todd Koehl said District 90 won't change its approach either. "We will still cover the same materials and prepare our students for this exam the same way we always had," he said. "The scores will be different of course."
The higher expectations of the new scores will cause a downward shift in the number of students who meet or exceed standards.
According to the 2012 ISAT results, 79 percent of all third- to eighth-grade students scored proficient in reading, and 86 percent of students scored proficient in mathematics. When using the new performance levels to analyze the ISAT data collected in spring 2012, the percentage of students who meet and exceed standards drops to 60 percent for both reading and mathematics.
"Anytime you change the cut scores (raise the performance levels), it's going to make it appear less students are 'passing' the required test," said John Bute, superintendent of Central School District 104. "I'm not going to put a lot of stock in the new scores."
Regardless of what the ISAT test scores are, Koehl said district officials will continue to examine how a student performs from year-to-year. "We will continue to look at if our students improved their scale score from the year before," he said. "If the scale score improves, our curriculum lines up accordingly ... regardless of the scale. Overall, it's still about student improvement."
Belleville School District 118 Superintendent Matt Klosterman said he supports higher standards, but questioned why the state is changing the performance levels now -- when a new set of educational standards and a new assessment test are being phased in by the state.
"I'm not sure what is accomplished by recalibrating the scores and putting them out this late in the game," he said.
Vanover explained raising the ISAT performance levels will better align with more rigorous Common Core State Standards being implemented in schools across the state and pave the way for tougher assessments set to debut in 2014-15, which will replace the ISATs.
Illinois joins several other states -- New York, Michigan, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Kansas -- that recently have raised performance expectations.
The ISAT data collected this spring will be analyzed for school and district accountability determinations using the new levels. Performance expectations for the science assessments will remain the same until new science standards are finalized later in 2013.
Contact reporter Jamie Forsythe at 239-2562 or firstname.lastname@example.org.