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Former Governor Jim Edgar and former U.S. Secretary of Commerce Bill Daley, co-chairs of Advance Illinois, jointly delivered a report on the status of education in Illinois on Sept. 23. Advance Illinois is bipartisan group that advocates for education reform in the State.

“This is the first cross-cutting assessment we’ve ever had of how our education system is serving students from birth through college,” said Mr. Edgar. “The report looks beyond test scores at progress, achievement gaps, and conditions in our schools.”

The report, “The State We’re In: 2010,” reveals some strengths, particularly in early childhood. However, it also shows the state lags badly in K-12 and post-secondary attainment. The report cites crucial information gaps, noting that many key aspects of educational performance are not currently being measured. 

The report compares how Illinois is doing in relation to other states in many areas which it considers are “leading indicators” of “how well we are educating our children.” The report also considers test scores, which Robin Steans, executive director of Advance Illinois, said are a “lagging indicator” of success.

In analyzing test results, the report uses Illinois’ students results on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), saying it provides a “more useful and reliable insight into our performance” than the reporting methods of the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT).

On an overall basis, the report gives Illinois an “Incomplete” in Early Childhood Education, a “D” in K-12 education, and a “C” in post-secondary education.

“College and career readiness must be the goal for all students,” concludes the report. “Increasingly, data suggests that the two standards are converging. Illinois should encourage all students to meet a simple, high standard and follow other states in linking high school graduation to both content and the mastery of college and career ready stills, including critical analysis and the ability to gather relevant information.”

In assessing whether eighth-graders are on-track for college readiness, Advance Illinois says in documents accompanying its report that are posted on its website, “The ISAT also is not a good predictor of college readiness and college success,” citing a study that found eighth-graders who just “meet standards” on the ISAT have less than a 5% chance of earning a “college ready” score on the ACT entrance exam three years later.

Instead, Advance Illinois says a better way to measure whether eighth-graders are on track for college readiness is to use MAP (Measure of Academic Performance) or EXPLORE, which is part of the ACT family of tests.

“The highest performing districts in our country start with knowledge and skills necessary to earn an ACT score of 24 as a high school junior and then plan backwards all the way to kindergarten including grade-by-grade benchmarks to measure student progress against. Starting with high expectations and clear definitions of success make a difference,” says Advance Illinois.

In a series of editorials last year and this year, the RoundTable has encouraged the School Boards of Districts 65 and 202 to work together and adopt joint goals that ETHS students meet the ACT benchmarks for college readiness when they leave ETHS, and that District 65 eighth-graders meet EXPLORE’s benchmarks to be on track for college readiness and that they meet the cut scores on the ISATs that Paul Zavitkovsky, of the Urban School Leadership Program of the University of Illinois-Chicago, has identified as the minimum to be on track for college readiness.