More schools fail progress standards, but some not worried
By Kalyn Belsha firstname.lastname@example.org October 31, 2013 5:18PM
The new school report cards show a bit of a bump in the road for some local schools, but officials say that residents need to look behind the numbers to see what's really going on. | Sun-Times Media file.
Updated: December 2, 2013 12:47PM
More than three-quarters of schools in 15 area districts failed to make adequate yearly progress this year, according to new state report card data released Thursday by the State Board of Education.
An analysis of state data showed 131 of 171 schools in the Fox Valley area did not meet the annual performance targets known as AYP. That was up from 96 out of 170 schools that did not meet the targets last year.
Districts included in the analysis were: West Aurora, East Aurora, Indian Prairie, Oswego, Yorkville, St. Charles, Sandwich, Geneva, Kaneland, Plano, Batavia, Somonauk, Naperville, Hinckley-Big Rock and Newark.
That was a trend statewide, as 624 fewer schools met the targets this year. Of all schools, 3,169 did not make AYP and 598 did.
Local school officials cautioned that those measures of progress, which are mandated by the federal No Child Left Behind Act and are based largely on how students perform on state standardized tests, don’t paint the full picture of how schools are doing, for a variety of reasons.
In January, the state raised the score that third- to eighth-grade students needed to receive to exceed or meet standards on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test, or ISAT. The new scores, the state said, would better demonstrate if students were prepared to enter college or the work force. But higher cut scores meant some students who previously met standards, no longer would.
The ISAT also became more difficult this year, as one-fifth of questions were aligned with the new, more rigorous Common Core State Standards. This school year, all questions on the ISAT will be aligned to the Common Core.
After that, schools will no longer use the ISAT. Starting in school year 2014-15, students will take a new assessment created by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, also known as PARCC, which is aligned to the Common Core.
Federal law also mandated a gradual rise in the percentage of students who met or exceeded standards over time, with the goal that all students would be proficient in math and reading by 2014 — an expectation some say is unrealistic, especially given changing standards and test content.
Patrick Nolten, Indian Prairie’s executive director of assessment, research and evaluation, said while schools have to take federally mandated goals seriously, Indian Prairie doesn’t highlight which of its schools made AYP as much as it did in the past.
This year, nine of 31 schools met AYP, down from 16 last year.
“This is not a reflection of the students,” he said. “It’s not that students have suddenly become incompetent academically. It simply means the yardstick has changed.”
He pointed out that Indian Prairie students still are achieving higher than the state average on the ISAT, with 79 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards — which takes into consideration the higher cut scores — compared to 59 percent statewide.
He said Indian Prairie also places a lot of emphasis on how students score on the ACT, which is used for college admissions.
The state, too, is focusing more on tests used to predict college readiness. A new metric called “ready for college coursework” appeared on the annual school report cards released Thursday.
That measurement looks at how many students scored an overall 21 on the ACT, which all Illinois students take in 11th grade as part of the Prairie State Achievement Exam, or PSAE.
According to state data, 75 percent of Indian Prairie students were ready for college coursework, compared with the 46 percent statewide average.
Another new metric on the state report cards shows student academic growth from year to year on the ISAT. The state said it was meant to give more than a snapshot in time of how students are performing.
While that metric isn’t tied to accountability regulations right now, such measurements could be used in the future.
Across the state, 63 percent of schools showed growth in reading and 56 percent of schools showed growth in math.
Schools are scored on a scale from 0 to 200, with anything over 100 representing positive growth.
Of the 15 local districts surveyed, all but three showed positive academic growth in both reading and math from 2012 to 2013.
West Aurora posted steady scores in reading with a decline in math, at 96. Yorkville posted gains in reading and a decline in math, at 98. East Aurora posted declines in both reading and math at 97 and 96, respectively.
East Aurora spokesman Matt Hanley said in an emailed statement that the district is “confronting our challenge head on,” pointing to recent staffing changes with the aim of boosting academic achievement.
“We have hired administrators who have proven track records with other districts,” Hanley said. “This year, the school district created two new positions — Director of School Improvement and Coordinator of Professional Development — that are specifically designed to drive our success.”
The district also added more instructional time at the elementary schools and high school this year, to give students more time to work on core subjects.
Six local districts had schools that scored in the top 50 among their grade levels, according to an analysis done by the Chicago Sun-Times using ISAT and PSAE scores.
Ranked elementary schools included: Highlands Elementary in Naperville 203 at 12 and Fry Elementary in Indian Prairie at 26.
Ranked middle schools included: Kennedy Junior in Naperville 203 at 19; Lisbon Grade School in Newark at 41; Gregory Middle in Indian Prairie at 49 and Scullen Middle in Indian Prairie at 50.
Ranked high schools included: Neuqua Valley High in Indian Prairie at 13; Naperville North High at 14; Naperville Central High at 15; Geneva Community High at 23; St. Charles North High at 26; St. Charles East High at 36; Waubonsie Valley High in Indian Prairie at 40 and Batavia Senior High at 45.