This graphic shows how various proficiency levels for eighth-grade reading stack up in relation to each other using Illinois percentile ranks on the ISATs. When students take the ISATs, they are assigned a "scale score" in reading, math and science. A student’s scale score is determined by the number of his or her correct responses to questions in the test, which questions reflect a range of complexity. In order to achieve higher scale scores, a student must answer more complex questions correctly. The Illinois State Board of Education has set "cut scores" that a student needs to achieve to "meet" and to "exceed" standards for each subject and grade. On the 2010 ISATs, eighth-graders who scored at the 17th Illinois percentile (as well as or better than 17% of students who took the same test) "met" standards in reading. Eighth-graders needed to score at the 89th Illinois percentile to "exceed" standards in reading. These benchmarks provide no information about how students are performing between these very low (the 17th Illinois percentile) and very high (the 89th Illinois percentile) levels.The measures adopted by the District 65 School Board on Aug. 22 will enable the District, parents, and the community to get a clearer picture of how many students are at serious risk of school failure (below the 25th Illinois percentile), how many are performing at grade level (the 50th Illinois percentile) and how many are on track to college and career readiness (at/above the 60th Illinois percentile in reading).

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In adopting its three-year goals on Aug. 22, the District 65 School Board decided it will measure student achievement for third- through eighth-graders using not only the “meet” and “exceed” standards of the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT), but also using benchmarks that are aligned with much higher proficiency levels: performance at grade level and being on track for college and career readiness.

District 65 is the first school district in Illinois to do so.

The proficiency level required to “meet standards” on the ISAT is ranked as one of the lowest in the nation. A study released earlier this month by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) found that Illinois ranked 41st in reading and 45th in math compared to other states. According to information provided last year to the RoundTable through NCES, the benchmarks to “meet standards” on the ISAT for eighth-grade reading and math are set at the 20th national percentile, using the National Assessment of Progress Test as a yardstick.

Using benchmarks aligned with grade level performance and college and career readiness will raise the bar, set higher expectations and use proficiencies that are more closely aligned with those needed to succeed in today’s world.

In the last few years a number of states have raised the bar to meet standards on their state tests and have identified scores on their tests for grades three to eight that are linked to being on track for college and career readiness. Illinois, however, has not done so.

By deciding to use measures that are aligned with performing at grade level and being on track to college and career readiness, the District 65 School Board has taken a proactive, progressive position.

In introducing the proposed measures of achievement, Board president Katie Bailey said she took what Board members had discussed in prior meetings and hammered out a proposed achievement goal and ways to measure growth with Superintendent Hardy Murphy over a two-week period.

Ms. Bailey said, “What I like is that we’re measuring and talking about growth for students for grade level and college and career readiness. We’re doing this before any legislation tells us to do it. We’re doing it because we as a Board think it’s the right thing to do. These goals are important to us. They set our overall vision of where we want the District to go. The administration takes these goals and develops their strategies and tactics to achieve them.”

Dr. Murphy said, “We tried to include all relevant measures and assessments that us have decided it’s important to embrace these measures and the challenges they present to us.”

Board member Eileen Budde noted that New York state has moved ahead of other states by adopting meet standards benchmarks that are aligned with being on track to college and career readiness. “While I wish that Illinois was in the forefront, rather than New York – where I’m from – I’m really excited that we as a District are going beyond the minimum,” she said.

Tracy Quattrocki, who, during the last two years, has advocated that the District should use additional measures to assess student achievement, said, “I think this is a great goal and very good measures. … We are doing something that is really forward looking and out in the front of how other people are reporting scores.”

Ms. Quattrocki suggested rounding out the measures hammered out by Ms. Bailey and Dr. Murphy by adding measurements that would track the percent of students who are in the lowest quartile, that would measure the percent of students scoring above the 50th percentile using not only median scores on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test, but also the ISAT, and that would track changes in the District’s ISAT scale scores.

“We’re doing something really great here,” she said, adding that the Board should determine how to better track the achievement of high performing students at a later date.

The Achievement Goal and Measures

The achievement goal is broadly stated: “Improve academic achievement for all student subgroups.” Under the goal, growth will be determined by increases in the percentage of students in grades three to eight:

• Who meet and exceed standards on the ISAT.

• Who are at or above grade level, by scoring at or above the 50th percentile on the MAP test, and on the ISAT test.

• Who meet the college and career readiness standards by scoring at or above the 60th Illinois percentile in reading and the 68th Illinois percentile in math on the ISAT. These benchmarks were identified by Paul Zavitkovsky of the Urban Education Leadership Program at the University of Illinois-Chicago.

• Who meet the college readiness benchmarks as eighth-graders on the EXPLORE test, one of the tests in the ACT family of tests.

The Board will also measure growth by tracking the percentage of students who score in the bottom quartile on the ISATs, and by tracking changes in the average scale scores on the ISATs which will give a picture of how achievement is progressing overall.

District 65 already administers the ISAT and MAP tests to its students and District 202 administers the EXPLORE test to District 65 eighth-graders. The measures adopted by the Board will thus not require students to take any additional tests, but simply require that the data be crunched and reported out in different ways.

Mr. Zavitkovsky, who prepared extensive reports on student achievement at School Districts 65 and 202 last year at the RoundTable’s request, told the RoundTable, “Most of the criticism I hear about the ISAT mistakenly assumes that the test itself is too easy, too loaded up with rote skills, not rigorous enough to measure real academic capacity. But the real problem isn’t the test . . . it’s how the test is graded. The ISAT has plenty of challenging and thought-provoking questions. You just don’t have to get many of them right to get a passing grade.

“It looks to me like the District 65 Board is saying, ‘We don’t have to stick with a grading policy that makes meeting standards meaningless just because the State Board of Education is stuck there. And we’re not going to wait around keeping our fingers crossed that Common Core standards and a whole new testing system will somehow solve this problem for us.’

“From what I can see, District 65 has simply decided to make better use of the information it already has so it can report more clearly on things that parents and taxpayers really want to know about. How many of our kids are on track for college and career readiness? How are we doing compared with state and national averages? How many of our students are at risk of school failure? What kind of progress are we making over time in each of these areas? This gives everybody a chance to ask better questions and to judge for themselves what’s working and what needs work. I wish more communities would insist on this kind of reportage. If more did, it might help the State Board feel a greater sense of urgency to do the same thing for all kids statewide.”

Quantifying Targets for Growth

The Board debated whether specific measureable targets for growth should be specified in the three- year achievement goal. Richard Rykhus said, “What is missing is it’s not specific. This goal doesn’t say how many more third graders should be proficient. … We need to make sure we’ve defined these goals in a way that the people sitting in these chairs three years from now are going to be able to say, ‘we’ve met these goals,’ or ‘we haven’t.’”

Ms. Quattrocki said, “We need to have something there so we can actually reflect after three years and say, ‘Did we meet these goals or not?’ We haven’t been able to do this effectively.”

Kim Weaver, saying she was relying on an article she had circulated to Board members, countered, “Movement is what you’re looking for. You want trends.” She added, “Rather than putting a specific percentage target, I would rather see us say, ‘we want to see increasing trends.’”

Andy Pigozzi said, “I’m against putting in specific measures. … Every educator I heard speak about this issue has spoken about not getting hung up on specific targets but looking for growth.”

Ms. Bailey said, “I don’t want this discussion to overshadow the fact that we’re really doing something the State of Illinois is not doing in how we’re talking about college and career readiness and how we’re talking about growth with all these measures.”

The Board reached a compromise on these conflicting positions by making some changes to the goal targets proposed by Ms. Bailey and Dr. Murphy. Under one provision, the District will “meet” the Board’s achievement goal by improving students’ achievement using the measures adopted by the Board. Under a second provision, the District will “exceed” the Board’s goal if there is an increase in the rate of growth, when compared to the prior three years.

The D65 School Board Adopts Four Goals

On Aug. 22, the School Board adopted four goals for the next three school years:

Goal 1: Improve academic achievement for all student subgroups. Growth will be determined by increases in the percentages of students in grades three through eight meeting the measures discussed in the accompanying story.

Goal 2: To maintain balanced operating fund budgets and continue implementing sound fiscal monitoring and financial planning for balanced budgets beyond the 2013-14.

Goal 3: To present in 2011-12 a five-year facilities plan 2012-13 through 2016-17; and update the District’s technology plan.

Goal 4: To fully implement the 2008-09 through 2013-14 strategic plan and develop a strategic plan to commence with the 2014-15 school year.