ISAT scores drop as expectations get tougher

News-DemocratSeptember 11, 2013 

The statewide results for school test scores show a drop in Illinois' elementary schools -- but that was expected, officials say because this is the year they made the test harder to pass.

This is the second-to-last year for the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, the test given to elementary schools each year to measure their progress.

In March, the elementary students will take the ISAT for the last time, as the state continues its transition to the national Common Core curriculum and an entirely new test based on it.

In high school, the students take the Prairie State Achievement Exam, but the standards on the PSAE and the ISAT were so different that the same district might have 80 percent or more passing the elementary test and fewer than 50 percent passing the high school test.

Last March, the ISAT raised its performance expectations in reading and math. If, for example, a student needed to answer 20 questions in a section correctly to be ranked as meeting state standards, he or she might now have to answer 25 correct.

"The rationale we were given is that we need to do this as a transition to the new standards, to give the educators, students and parents a better indication of where they need to be for college and career readiness," said Matt Klosterman, superintendent of Belleville District 118. "We hear what they're saying about why they did it ... I think it could give the impression that our schools are performing at a lower level than they have been, and I don't think that's the case at all."

That meant that the statewide percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards on the ISAT dropped from 82.1 to 61.9 in one year. Previously, overall scores had been on a steady rise. The science score, which was not subject to the increased standards, went from 79.8 to 80 percent.

PSAE composite scores went from 51.3 to 51.9.

That was in line with their predictions, according to state Superintendent Christopher Koch. He said parents should not see it as a reflection on the students or the schools.

"We needed to raise our expectations at the elementary level so that students are on track for high school and eventually prepared to succeed in college, career and daily life," Koch said. "As we map student performance over time on the new performance levels, we're seeing steady growth."

Klosterman said it's important that parents don't think their students are suddenly failing the tests.

"The impression may be that all of a sudden the students know less, but we don't believe that's true, they just changed the target point," he said. "If you have to high-jump six feet to make the Olympics, then the next day they say it's seven-and-a-half feet, that's going to eliminate a lot of people."

Other statistics released this week include:

* The number of school districts in Illinois declined from 891 to 863 in the last year.

* The total enrollment in Illinois public schools is 2,054,155 students, a decrease of more than 12,000 students since last year.

* The percentage of students listed as low-income increased from 36.1 percent to 49.8 percent since last year. In order to be counted as low-income, a family must qualify for free or reduced lunches, listed at 130 percent or 185 percent of the federal poverty guideline. In Illinois, that means a family of four qualifies for free lunch if they make less than $2,552 a month.

* Minority enrollment increased from 38 percent in 1999 to 49.4 percent in 2012.

* The number of students for whom English is a second language increased from 6.3 percent in 2003 to 9.5 percent in 2013.

The district and school report cards detailing test scores, demographics, financial information and more about every school will be released in October. Parents also will receive the individual report card on their students' personal performances.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at or 239-2507.

Contact reporter Elizabeth Donald at or 239-2507.

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