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School District 65 eighth-graders scored about the same on the EXPLORE test in December 2007 as the year before, according to a “Report on Student Achievement” released by School District 202 on Nov. 5. On that most recent EXPLORE test, the composite score for African-American students was 14.2, for Latino students it was 14.4, and for white students it was 19.4. EXPLORE’s benchmark score toward college readiness is 16.25.

District 202 gives the EXPLORE test to District 65 eighth-graders each year as one of a number of tests and methods used to assess incoming freshmen. EXPLORE is part of the ACT family of tests, and it is designed to be given to eighth- or ninth-graders. Eleventh-graders take the ACT as part of the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE), which is the state’s mandated assessment at high school.

District 65 eighth-graders’ have shown virtually no progress on the EXPLORE test. The composite scores by subgroup for the last seven years are as follows:

  • African American: 14.1, 13.3, 13.6, 14.0, 14.2, 14.1, 14.2
  • Latino: 14.5,14.7, 14.9, 14.2, 14.9, 14.8, 14.4
  • White: 19.5, 19.5, 19.4, 19.3, 19.4, 19.5, 19.4

By contrast, District 65 eighth-graders have made substantial gains on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) during the same period, with the highest gains being made by minority students. For example, 42% of District 65 eighth-graders met or exceeded standards on the 2002 ISATs; the percentage jumped to 75% on the 2008 ISATs. The ISATs are the state’s mandated assessment for elementary grade levels.

District 65 officials have said they do not believe the EXPLORE test is a reliable measurement of whether a student is meeting state standards. District 202 officials, however, have said that EXPLORE is closely aligned with state standards and point out that EXPLORE is part of the ACT family of tests, and that the ACT test is given as part of the PSAEs. The State Board of Education has recently launched a program under which it encourages school districts to administer the EXPLORE test.

A recent study prepared by researchers with the Consortium on Chicago School Research concluded that the ISATs set low academic standards for eighth-graders. “Students, their parents and their schools are being told that they meet state standards for eighth-grade achievement; yet they have virtually no chance of reaching a score of 20 on the ACT, which we note is an admittedly low bar,” says that report. The benchmark for college readiness on the ACT is 21.25.