Prior to the 2015-16 school year, Illinois high schools administered the ACT college entrance exam to all high school juniors.
The ACT exam was funded by the state, beginning in 2002, and 100 percent of 11th-graders were required to take the ACT. In the spring of 2015, the Illinois State Board of Education requested bid proposals from both the College Board (SAT) and ACT to determine which college entrance exam would be funded and administered in Illinois moving forward.
In the spring of 2017, the SAT exam was funded in Illinois and administered to 100 percent of junior students. As the SAT was said to be aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards, the state determined that the SAT could be used as an “accountability tool” to determine how well schools were performing, in addition to providing access to a college entrance exam for all high school junior students. Because of SAT’s alignment with state standards, ISBE decided that the administration of the PARCC assessment in high school was no longer needed. Although many educators questioned the rationale for switching from ACT to SAT at the time, most educators supported the elimination of the PARCC exam for accountability, and were satisfied with ISBE’s decision to use the SAT exam instead.
At its last board meeting, ISBE made another decision regarding the SAT which stunned many educators. ISBE decided to set the SAT benchmarks used for Illinois accountability much higher than the SAT benchmarks established by the College Board to determine college readiness. This made little sense to many educators. The College Board has been in existence for decades, and accordingly, has decades of historical data on students, their SAT scores, and their performance in post-high school education. The benchmarks established by the College Board have stood the test of time and are relied upon by institutions of higher education across the country. So, why then, did ISBE establish benchmarks that were significantly higher to measure the success of Illinois high schools? The answer is not clear to many educators at this time.
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So what does the difference in benchmarks mean for the SAT scores earned by OTHS student who took the exam in spring of 2017? The chart below shows the benchmark scores determined by the College Board and ISBE in English/Language Arts and Math. It is important to note that the College Board has established benchmark scores for students who take the SAT in 11th grade, as well as “final” SAT benchmark scores. The College Board’s 11th-grade benchmarks account for the additional year of learning that students still have prior to graduation. Many students will take the SAT exam again, after its administration during their junior year, because their scores will increase given additional high school instruction and gained experience taking the SAT exam.
As one can see from the chart, the percentage of students meeting benchmarks established by the College Board far exceed the percentage of students meeting the benchmarks established by ISBE. Why has ISBE created such high benchmarks for accountability to Illinois standards if the SAT is aligned with those standards and if the College Board has determined over decades its benchmarks predict college readiness?
ISBE released the Illinois School Report Card to the public earlier this week. The Illinois School Report Card shows how high school students perform against the ISBE benchmarks, and will not reference college readiness as determined by the College Board. OTHS’s administration does not believe the Report Card accurately reflects the preparedness of our students for college and careers. OTHS data indicates that OTHS students continue to perform, on average, in the top 8 percent of Illinois high schools on these high stakes college entrance exams. Approximately 85 percent of its students will attend a two- or four-year college upon graduation. Yet ISBE will inform the reader of the Illinois School Report Card that slightly over half of OTHS students are meeting standards.
How can the Illinois Report Card for OTHS tell such a different story? We can only ask the question.