Ever since the 1982 publication of "A Nation at Risk", politicians, education researchers, and the business community have been espousing their various "silver bullets" to the ever-elusive question of how to reform public education. For now, let's put aside the discussion of whether or not the data quantitatively proves public education actually needs to be reformed. Such a discussion is worthy of multiple posts, and is not the point of this particular discussion.
Over the years, we have watched the education reform pendulum swing back and forth many times. In response to "A Nation at Risk", we saw a focus on reforming education through enhancing the rigor of science and math classes. In the 90's, we saw "Tech Prep" become the new focus as public schools were charged with trying to get students on a career track early in their educational tenure. In this way, public schools could meet the needs of the business world that was concerned about the quality of their workforce. Then we saw the passing of "No Child Left Behind" (NCLB), which took the focus off vocational education and tech prep, and instead, forced schools to meet certain requirements for student achievement in reading and math. As a result, schools began to forgo vocational education, career planning and the arts, and instead placed all of their energies and resources into reading and math because the stakes were so high. Now, the latest educational reform initiative, "Race to the Top", is focused on college and career readiness for all students.
In response to "Race to the Top", the Illinois State Board of Education has recommended significant changes to the ISAT test, which will have huge ramifications for public schools across Illinois. They have determined that the ISAT cut scores to achieve a meets or exceeds status are too low. Therefore, they have increased these cut scores dramatically to align them more closely with the results of the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), which is taken by every junior in an Illinois high school.
These changes are significant! For example, on the 2012 ISAT test for 3rd grade math, 98% of Coal City District #1 students met or exceeded standards. However, when the new cut scores are applied, only 62% of our students would have met or exceeded standards. We have not yet calculated the impact on reading and math scores at all of our impacted grades (3-8). However, that information will be available soon.
Raising the cut scores is a definite challenge, but it is not the only new challenge we will be facing on the 2013 State ISAT assesment. In preparation for transition to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which is scheduled for implementation starting in the fall of 2014, the ISBE has informed us that the 2013 ISAT test will have 20% of its questions coming from the Common Core Curriculum.
In summary, 20% of the questions on the 2013 ISAT test will be much more challenging because they will be focused on the Common Core Curriculum. At the same time, the cut scores for achieving a meets or exceeds status have been significantly raised. It goes without saying that the overall percentage of students from District #1 who meet or exceed standards on the ISAT test will decline. How severe this decline will be remains to be seen.
As always, our school district will embrace this new data and see it as an opportunity for continuous improvement. However, it is important that our school community understands why school districts across Illinois will experience serious declines in the number of their students who meet or exceed standards on the upcoming 2013 ISAT test.