Earlier this year, educators throughout Illinois braced for more rigorous standardized testing that would likely show plunging passing grades. Now that school report card data is available from the state, near northwest suburbanites are getting their first look at just how dramatic the drop was.
A Tribune analysis of Illinois Standards Achievement Test results for schools across the near northwest suburbs shows a dip in passing grades of anywhere between 11 and 30 percentage points.
District officials are quick to point out that the declining scores are not indicative of student deficiencies but, rather, are more the result of tougher ISAT questions and increased passing requirements.
The Illinois State Board of Education raised the passing requirements for the math and reading portions of the ISAT, taken this spring by students across the state in third through eighth grades. The board also changed some of the test questions to align with newly adopted state common core standards for reading and math.
Those standards provide a better indication of college and career readiness, ISBE officials said.
The changes "created an even higher and difficult challenge for many students, in that they were going to be asked questions on content they may or may not have had an opportunity to learn," said Charlene Cobb, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning at East Maine School District 63. "And then the bar was raised."
By next spring, the entire ISAT will align with the common core, district officials said. By the 2014-15 school year, Illinois plans to institutes a new assessment test under a 19-state consortium called Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC.
Officials at school districts in Des Plaines, Park Ridge and Niles said they already started transitioning their curriculum and instruction methods to match common core standards.
"In four years, we will have four different tests," said Jan Rashid, assistant superintendent of instructional services at Des Plaines School District 62. "So I think districts understand the long-term goal here. We want students to have rigorous learning experiences, and we want students to be high school, college and career-ready."
School report card data across the state shows that nearly 50 percent of all students are classified as low-income, state officials said in a release.
District officials in the near northwest suburbs also said they've noticed an uptick in the student population that qualifies as low-income.
At District 63, some schools have seen a more than 10 percent increase in low-income students, Cobb said.
Meanwhile, more than 80 percent of students at Orchard Place Elementary School in Des Plaines qualify as low-income, according to state data.
The low-income student population at another District 62 school, Forest Elementary School in Des Plaines, jumped from 26.4 percent in 2012 to 54.3 percent this year, Rashid said.
The increase brings a different set of challenges for educators, Rashid said, challenges "above and beyond meeting the expectations of the common core state standards and the ISAT."
And while the impacts of poverty on student achievement are well-known to educational researchers, local educators said teachers and administrators are constantly examining ways to lessen those impacts.
"The economic reality is it makes learning more difficult for students, and there are additional stresses placed on the families," Cobb said. "We have to determine ways to support the students and the families, so this does not become an impediment."