Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The New ISAT Performance Level Cut Scores

In my last post, I explained the new Common Core standards in Reading and Mathematics, which have taken the place of the traditional State Standards that Illinois public schools have worked under for many years.  These new Common Core Standards are a multi-state effort to better prepare our students for the challenges they will face as they enter either higher education or the work force.

District #1 has been working hard since the summer of 2011 to implement the new Common Core standards into our curricula, instructional approaches and assessments.  We have embraced this process because we believe these new rigorous standards promote learning at a higher and deeper level which will better prepare our students for success after high school.

As school districts across Illinois work to implement the Common Core standards, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has also been working to align the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) for math and English language arts to these new performance levels.  As a part of the state and federal accountability system, the ISAT test is given to students in grades three through eight in the spring each year.  In January, 2013, the ISBE raised the cut scores necessary for students to achieve a "Meets" or "Exceeds" score on the ISAT test.  These higher cut scores are meant to provide administrators, teachers and parents with a more thorough picture of student progress towards college and career readiness.  The ISBE accomplished this task by working with an expert advisory committee to determine the necessary college and career readiness scores of 11th-graders and then set scores for each elementary grade level accordingly.  In short, it worked back from the high school readiness scores and set grade-level appropriate scores to ensure that elementary students will be on track for college and career readiness.  This means that students will be measured against college and career readiness benchmarks earlier (3rd grade) rather than waiting for the 11th grade Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) to yield this information.

Historically, there has been a large achievement gap between student performance on the ISAT test in grades 3-8 and that same student performance on the PSAE exam during grade 11.  In  2012, 82% of students met or exceeded standards on the ISAT statewide, while only 51% met or exceeded standards on the PSAE.  As a result, high schools were being unfairly scrutinized for a perceived drop in achievement, when in reality, a faulty comparison was being used of two completely different tests and achievement expectations.  The higher ISAT cut scores now align with the student performance expectations of the PSAE and provide a more accurate indication of whether a student is on track for post-secondary success.

As expected, these new performance levels caused a sharp decline in the number of students who received the designation of "Meets" or "Exceeds" standards on the 2013 implementation of the ISAT test.  In 2012, the State saw 79% of 3-8 graders score proficient in reading and 86% of those same students reached the proficient level in mathematics.  When the new ISAT cut scores are applied, these scores dropped to 60% proficient for both reading and mathematics.

It is important to note that these changes in performance levels do not mean that our students know less or are less capable then they were in previous years.  It also is not a reflection on teacher performance.  Instead, the ISBE is raising the bar on what students must achieve in order to be ready for success in college and career.

This fall, you will receive your child's 2013 ISAT score results, and it is important that you take into account this "raising of the bar" in cut scores when analyzing the results.  As a school district, we are excited to receive results that provide us with a more accurate picture of the college and career readiness of our students.  We will now have State assessment results that provide usable information in our continuous improvement efforts.

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