Raise student test scores as well as the bar

September 14, 2013 

Raise the bar and fewer students will clear it.

That's how Illinois state education leaders downplay a sharp drop in statewide elementary school ISAT test scores -- from 82.1 percent down to 61.9 percent. They say they expected worse results because they are scoring the test harder.

"The new expectations do not mean that our students know less or are less capable than they were in previous years," said Chris Koch, the state superintendent of schools.

But despite those soothing words, the numbers are reason for alarm. This change in scoring is intended to show more accurately whether students are being adequately prepared for high school, college and life. If now only 61.9 percent of students meet expectations, then 38.1 percent do not.

Our state and our nation cannot afford to have more than one out of every three students inadequately prepared to move to the next level.

So how do we move the needle on achievement? A sharp increase in the number of low-income families adds to the challenge. Income is considered a predictor of academic success. Well, the state says the percentage of students who are low-income increased in one year from 36.1 percent to 49.8 percent -- one of every two students. Yikes. We knew the state's unemployment rate was higher than the national average, but those numbers are staggering.

One way to move the needle is for parents to take more personal responsibility for their children's success.

Operation Food Search is expanding its outreach program to Belleville School District 118, where 60 percent of students are now considered low income. Yikes again.

The food program's director said some low-income students don't have much to eat between school lunch on a Friday, and school breakfast on a Monday. If true, there is no excuse for that. Many aid programs, public and private, could help.

If metro-east educators know or suspect that their students aren't getting fed on weekends, either they or the Department of Children and Family Services need to intervene.

Parents not feeding their children on weekends is not a sign of low income; it's a sign of neglect.

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