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The U.S. Department of Education recently announced that it was inviting states to apply for waivers to move beyond the accountability measures of the No Child Left Behind Act. President Barack Obama said, “The purpose of the waivers is not to give states a reprieve from accountability, but rather to unleash energy to improve our schools at the local level.”

On Feb. 23, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) filed an application for a waiver with the U.S. Department of Education. In its application, ISBE said it will raise the benchmark (e.g. the cut scores) to “meet standards” on the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests (ISATs) to align them with college and career readiness benchmarks.

ISBE says in its application, “Currently, ISAT results are not aligned to PSAE results, thus students at Grades 3–8 are not getting accurate aligned information about their college and career readiness. “

ISBE said that 85 percent to 86 percent of third- through eighth-graders met standards in reading and math on the 2011 ISATS, and that only 51 percent of eleventh-graders met standards on the Prarie State Achievement Exam (PSAE). “We do not attribute this drop in proficiency to a drop in student learning in Grades 9 and 10,” said ISBE. “To the contrary, we are confident that this drop in proficiency reflects the misalignment between the ISAT ‘meets standards’ scores and the PSAE ‘meets standards’ scores.”

ISBE says it believes that Illinois high school students are college-ready in reading, math and science when they “meet standards” on the PSAEs. ISBE thus backmapped from the PSAE scores and from ACT college readiness benchmarks to determine ISAT cut scores that are aligned with college readiness.

“ISBE will finalize the new cut scores with our Technical Advisory Committee in spring 2012,” said ISBE’s application. “ISBE anticipates that the new cut scores will result in approximately 50 percent of Grades 3-8 students meeting or exceeding standards on ISAT (in contrast to the current 85 percent to 86 percent meeting and exceeding standards on ISAT).”

“By aligning the ISAT cut scores with college benchmarks,” ISBE says, “ISAT will provide valuable and meaningful information to educators, parents, students, and stakeholders so that we can better prepare Illinois’ students for college and careers.”