Missing the Mark?

Four local high schools and three grade schools made the list of the top Chicagoland schools based on state achievement test results. But despite their high rankings, few of the schools passed federal test targets.

Neuqua Valley was the top high school in either of Naperville’s school districts, but even they missed the mark according to federal standards.

“It’s not that the school is diminished or losing capacity or not meeting the needs of students,” said Patrick Nolten, Director of Assessment, Research and Evaluation for District 204. “It’s that the bar is becoming increasingly more difficult to meet.”

To pass 85% of students needed to meet or exceed expectations. The school is also divided into subgroups based on race, ethnicity, disabilities, and income level. And if one of those subgroups doesn’t meet the 85%, then the whole school fails.

“We’re a failing school because one or two of those subgroups in this particular year did not meet state standards,” said Robert McBride, Principal of Neuqua Valley High School. “Is that an effective measure? I think a lot of us in education are calling that into question.”

State exams begin in elementary school. Third graders take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. Highlands Elementary School students earned the highest rating in town. 98.1% of them met or exceeded expectations.

“We might look at the expectation from a third grader the first time they take the ISATs, how can we break that down to not just August and September of third grade, but what can second graders be beginning to learn and practice and what can first graders be doing,” said Susan Stuckey, Principal of Highlands Elementary School.

So what’s happening between the elementary and high school levels? It’s not that Naperville students aren’t progressing. High school students are judged on a different type of test than elementary and middle schoolers.

“High school students are being measured by a different yard stick than when they’re in elementary and middle school,” said McBride. “Their measurement is college readiness. We’re not measuring eighth graders for college readiness.”

In 2014, the state standardized tests will change. It will be performance driven and focus on higher thinking skills. Kids will have to demonstrate what they learn instead of answering multiple-choice questions. Illinois is working with other states to develop tests that are more coherent between grade levels and regions.

“I think in the past you had no consistency among states,” said Mark Mitrovich, Superintendent of District 203. “You had no measure that said how do we compare on an international level which is where we should be comparing. And that’s all about to change.”

The new tests will be more challenging and students will take them online.

“I can’t imagine anything more challenging than the ACT,” said McBride. “What I hope is that actually these assessments get into what kids know and will be able to do. So that will be the challenge.”

While some educators question logistics about the new tests, others welcome the tests with open arms.

“I think this is the most exciting time that you could possibly be in education,” said Mitrovich. “I’ve been at this 40 plus years and I think that the potential that this holds for students and American education goes beyond anything we’ve seen, so I view it as a huge opportunity.”

The new tests are still being developed, but students in 203 are already running beta tests on them. To help determine a child’s growth, the new exams will be given at least twice a year.

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