For many years, local public schools have had high performance results on standardized testing by the Illinois State Board of Education’s standards.
However, in 2013, the ISBE raised performance expectations for tests such as the ISAT and PSAE to meet the requirements of the new Common Core State Standards that are being implemented across the state.
Because of this, the percentage of students who meet and exceed test standards will appear much lower than in past years.
For example, in 2012, 92 percent of students in the Waterloo school district met and exceeded standards on their ISAT test.
However, using the new standards, that percentage dropped to 76 percent.
John Schmieg, curriculum coordinator for Waterloo schools, said the state decided last January to begin implementing new Common Core standards.
“We predicted about a 20-percent drop, because that’s what the state told us we could expect,” Schmieg said.
For the 2011-12 school year, the tests were the same as they have always been. For 2012-13, a few Common Core aspects were integrated into the test.
This year, the test will be completely different.
“The state is still comparing our data over the past three years, but it’s three different tests,” Schmieg said. “It’s like trying to hit a moving target.”
Next year’s ISAT test will take place in March, with the new test and new standards fully in place.
Waterloo superintendent Jim Helton said it will be more difficult to match Waterloo students against the benchmark if the standards and requirements have changed.
“It’s frustrating because we have tracked data in the past,” Helton said. “As we’ve made curriculum changes in our own district, we want to be able to see if those changes are positive and if the students are achieving better.”
Helton said the results up through last year were positive in regard to curriculum changes within the district.
“This year, the entire ISAT will be Common Core-type questions, and then the following year, we’ll go to the (Prairie State Achievement Exam) assessment (for high schoolers),” Helton said.
Columbia schools have dealt with the same standard changes.
Columbia assistant superintendent Beth Horner said Columbia also saw a drop in ISAT scores.
“Though the new cut scores lowered our performance ratings, students are still showing academic growth and we are still performing above the state averages,” she said. “As a district though, we will continue to strive towards adjusting to these changes while providing the best education for our students.”
Schmieg said next year, the PARCC test will be implemented for around 26 states, so all students will be taking the same test.
The major change in testing from this year to next year will be a shift in format.
“Right now, students still take written tests. After the changes, the test will be computer-based and there will be two tests,” Helton said. “They will still take the March test, but there will be a May test as well.”
All of this is being done in an effort to align curriculum to the Common Core standards Illinois has put in place.
“There has to be some transitions and some layering in,” Helton said.
Right now, Waterloo’s Common Core is just in English, language arts and math, but will grow to include science in the future.
“The hardest part of this is for a kid who exceeded last year, might not do the same this year,” Helton said.
Residents of the district should take comfort in the data for local assessments, Helton said.
“Scores just aren’t going to look very good, but the students haven’t changed,” he said. “The test has just gotten much more difficult.”
To view how local school districts performed on the tests and for more information about the new standards, visit www.IllinoisReportCard.com.
Helton, Schmieg and the Illinois Report Card website have all stressed that this decrease in percentage does not reflect a decrease in the quality of schools, teachers or student work.
At the next board of education meeting on Nov. 18, the board members will review more information on the Common Core changes, and the state report card as well.