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On Jan. 24, 2013, ISBE decided to raise the cut scores (e.g., the proficiency levels) to “meet standards” on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) which is given to third- through eighth-graders. ISBE said it raised the cut scores on the ISATs to “better align” them with the proficiency levels to meet standards on the Prairie State Achievement Test (PSAE), which is given to eleventh graders. ISBE also says the new cut scores are a “more accurate” indicator of college and career readiness.

An internal report prepared by ISBE researchers shows, though, that the new cut scores to “meet standards” on the ISATs are not aligned with the cut scores to “meet standards” on the PSAEs. Moreover, they are well below the proficiency level needed to be on track to college and career readiness.

Misalignment With the PSAEs

An internal report prepared in early 2012 by Pooja K. Agarwal, Ph.D. and Rense Lange, Ph.D. (both  ISBE employees at the time they prepared their report) identified cut scores to meet standards on the ISATs that they say aligned with the cut scores to meet standards on the PSAEs. The ISAT cut scores they identified correspond to the 51st percentile in reading and the 53rd percentile in math.

In adopting new cut scores to “meet standards” on the ISATs in January 2013, ISBE did not adopt the cut scores identified in the Agarwal/Lange report.  Instead, ISBE adopted lower cut scores that corresponded to the 42nd percentile – scores roughly 10 percentile points lower than those needed to align with the PSAEs.

In a separate analysis, Paul Zavitkovsky of the Urban Education Leadership Program at the University of Illinois-Chicago found that the new cut scores to meet standards on the ISATs were approximately 10 percentile points too low to align with the benchmark to “meet standards” on the PSAEs.

Well Below College/Career Readiness

In addition, the Agarwal/Lange report found that the PSAE scores that correspond to the ACT’s benchmarks for college and career readiness are at the 65th percentile in reading and the 66th percentile in math.

These are in line with or a little higher than the findings made by Mr. Zavitkovsky with respect to the ISATs. He estimates that eighth-grade ISAT scores that correspond to ACT’s benchmarks for college and career readiness are at the 60th percentile in reading and the 66th in math.

In stark contrast, the new cut scores adopted by ISBE to meet standards in reading and math correspond to the 42nd percentile – 18 percentile points lower for reading and 24 lower for math.

Significantly, a chart contained in the Agarwal/Lange report shows that eighth-graders who scored 267 on the ISATs in math (the new eighth-grade score needed to meet standards) would have only about a 10 percent chance of meeting ACT’s college readiness benchmarks in math in eleventh grade.

ISBE’s Refusal to Produce Studies, Reports

On Jan. 28, 2013, the RoundTable submitted a freedom of information act request to ISBE, asking for all studies used to equate ISAT scores with the cut score to “meet standards” on the PSAEs or with the ACT’s benchmarks for college readiness.

ISBE said the Agarwal/Lange report was responsive to the RoundTable’s FOIA request, but it refused to provide any other documents, citing a deliberative process privilege. The RoundTable appealed ISBE’s refusal to the Public Access Counselor of the Office of the Illinois Attorney General. The appeal has not yet been decided.

For a more detailed article on this topic, see “ISBE Low-Balls New ISAT Cut Scores, Misalignment With PSAE and ACT College Readiness Continues,” published in the Feb. 28, 2013 issue of the RoundTable.