The Nation’s Report Card, released on Nov.14, shows that only 34% of Illinois fourth-graders and 34% of its eighth-graders performed at or above a “proficient” level in reading on the 2011 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests.

In mathematics, 38% of Illinois fourth-graders and 33% of its eighth-graders performed at or above a “proficient” level on the 2011 NAEP tests.

On average, Illinois students performed very close to the national average on the 2011 NAEP tests.  In reading, Illinois four-graders had an average scale score of 219, compared to the national average of 220; Illinois eighth-graders had an average scale score of 266, compared to the national average of 264.

In math, Illinois fourth-graders had an average scale score of 239, compared to a national average of 240; Illinois eighth-graders had an average scale score of 283, compared to a national average of 283.

The NAEP is given to a sampling of fourth- and eighth- graders every two years in all 50 states as part of the No Child Left Behind Act. Representative samples of at least 168,000 students at each grade level were given the NAEP in 2011. The results are reported in the Nation’s Report Card under the auspices of the U.S. Department of Education.

For reporting purposes, the NAEP uses four achievement levels: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. The “proficient” level has been set as the goal for student performance by the National Assessment Governing Board.

Comparison to the 2011 ISATs

The results of students on the NAEP tests once again highlight the difference between the nation’s standards and the standards of Illinois on the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests (ISATs).

While 34% of Illinois eighth-graders met or exceeded the proficient level in reading on the 2011 NAEP tests, 85% met or exceeded standards on the 2011 ISATs.

The pattern is virtually the same for math:  33% of Illinois eighth-graders met or exceeded the proficient level in math on the 2011 NAEP tests; 86% met or exceeded standards in math on the 2011 ISATs.

Many studies have concluded that the difference is due to Illinois setting a low benchmark to meet standards on the ISATs.  

A study released on Aug. 10, “Mapping State Proficiency Standards Onto NAEP Scales: 2005-2009” (2011), conducted by National Center for Education Statistics at the U.S. Department of Education, concluded that the benchmark for eighth-graders to “meet standards” on the 2009 ISATs ranked very low compared to other states: 41st in reading and 45th in math.

On Aug 22, the District 65 School Board decided it will measure student achievement for third- through eighth-graders using not only the “meet” standards of the ISATs, 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.