Next year, parents likely will get a rude awakening when they are handed their child’s ISAT scores. After a decade in which ISAT cut scores crept down, state officials are poised to raise them, thereby likely reducing the number of students who meet or exceed standards.

The Illinois State Board of Education is scheduled to vote on the proposed changes at their meeting on Thursday. The move comes in anticipation of a new, tougher standardized test expected to be ready for use in 2014. The new test will be based on the Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia. The Common Core standards are thought to be more rigorous than current state standards.

If the change is approved, ISBE projects that the percentage of students statewide who meet or exceed standards on the ISAT will drop by 20 points in reading and math. ISBE officials will analyze the expected effects on individual districts in the coming weeks, ISBE spokesman Matt Vanover said.

If CPS has the same projected decrease, about 50 percent of students would meet standards on the ISAT—a similar percentage as in 2005, before the state lowered cut scores. In 2006, the cut scores were recalibrated and CPS saw a 15 percentage point jump in students meeting or exceeding standards. Last year, 76.4 percent of students in CPS met standards on the ISAT.

“Raising expectations is never easy, and the anticipated drop in students’ scores will be significant,” said State Superintendent Chris Koch in a press release. “However, we must seize this opportunity to tap into our children’s full potential and better prepare them at an earlier age to compete for jobs in a global economy.”

CPS is planning on sending letters to parents to explain to them what is going on, said CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll.

Another reason for the recalibration, Koch said, is the state’s desire to align results on the high school standardized test, called the PSAE, with the ISAT. Only 51 percent of high school juniors met standards on the PSAE, compared to 82 percent on the ISAT.

Consequences for student retention, school probation, school ratings

Over the past two years, district officials have worked to prepare parents for the change. They have downplayed the results on the ISAT and, instead, tried to get parents to focus on the NWEA, a benchmark exam with results reported for the first time in 2011 on the district’s redesigned school progress reports.

The NWEA is considered to be more closely aligned with the Common Core standards. Currently, the NWEA is now the only test with results reported on a school’s progress report.

But, for CPS students, the change may have greater consequences. CPS is the only school district in the state that bases grade promotion partly on students’ ISAT scores. CPS officials have not said whether they plan to alter the policy in light of the cut-score increase or the Common Core assessment in coming years.

Also, ISAT results determine whether a school is placed on probation, as well as on the district’s rating scale.   

State standardized test scores also will be weighed into teacher and principal evaluations. However, growth will be considered, so low test scores, starting out, could be a benefit.

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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