Recently, the News Democrat wrote an editorial regarding the increased cut scores (pass/fail) on the ISAT state test given to grades 3 to 8 students. In the editorial, based solely on the latest propaganda from the Illinois State Board of Education, it stated that school superintendents would be "doing students yet another disservice if they explain lower test scores away as just a change in scoring."
School superintendents will have no choice but to say this if they want their constituents to fully understand this proposal. ISBE continues to use the phrases "higher standards," "student growth," and "academic success after high school" to further degrade public schools.
In my opinion, this language is used to seek more money from the U.S. Department of Education. With that said, the purpose of this editorial is to give the reader a little researched history of Illinois testing, as opposed to the current emotional outcry being put forward.
In 2005, ISBE did a good thing. They vertically equated the ISAT test at grades 3-8 and provided an individual item analysis on each student. (Vertically equated means the test is structured to provide an estimate of how a student's score in one grade will predict his score for the following year). Schools, for the first time in almost 20 years of state testing, could use the state test scores for instructional improvement.
The state did not do this for the high school test (PSAE). Consequently, schools could not predict future scores beyond eighth grade. Also, there was no individual item analysis for the high school test, (PSAE), which is a key component of student academic improvement. I was told by ISBE officials that they could not align the tests because the ISAT and PSAE tests were different. How ironic that this can happen now, some eight years later.
There is a big disconnect between the ISAT and PSAE with 82 percent meeting/exceeding state standards on the ISAT and 51 percent on the PSAE. Instead of changing the cut scores (pass/fail) on one test (PSAE), ISBE has chosen to change six tests (ISAT -- grades 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8). The theory is to match the new learning standards, yet the state is using 2008 grade 8 student results in ISAT with the 2011 juniors (PSAE) to get the new performance levels (backmapping). Both of these tests used the previous learning standards. There is a statistical disconnect here. A good school uses raw data to see improvement, not some arbitrary decision made at ISBE. No more are we asking "what is best for today's student?" Instead, we are asking: How can we get more money from the federal government or high money organizations such as the Gates and Wallace foundations?
Many people say charter schools are the answer. In a 2010 study of Stanford University's Center for Research on Educational Outcomes, researchers found 37 percent of charter schools produce academic results worse than public schools, with only 17 percent doing significantly better (Newsweek, June 13, 2010). Educational success still comes down to good leaders, good teachers, good parents and a supportive community.
Diane Ravitch, New York University educational historian, said it well: "The machinery is in place to measure and test, driving out innovation, creativity, and divergent thinking. Kids have more tests resulting in a worse education" (Ravitch, Oct. 4, 2010, The Blog). This attitude will cause communities to continue to see fewer classes in vocational education, gifted, physical education, and the fine/practical arts.
The new, harder ISAT test is not going to improve schools. You can expect local district scores to reflect a 25 percent to 35 percent decrease in test results --results that are already so messed up that virtually no school district is meeting adequate yearly progress. This is in a state that can barely help schools because of cutbacks at our State Board on its own staff.
The change in test results reflects another sad commentary of governmental involvement in schools in the past quarter of a century. Schools will find themselves unable to compare test scores between years because ISBE has changed the test scoring once again. If the goal of the State Board is to make our tests meaningless, as far as academic improvement, then ISBE is certainly accomplishing its goal.
James T. Rosborg is director of Master's in Education at McKendree University in Lebanon and a retired superintendent of Belleville Grade School District 118.