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Subgroups and Standard Achievement Test scores in Illinois
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 25, 2013 13:10 PM

Standard Achievement Test scores are improving in many school districts in Illinois, but there are some issues being raised concerning the success of specific groups of students. The state released the scores at the end of October and reported that students in Eastern and Central Illinois have made "adequate yearly progress." Results from those regions showed significant student growth in both reading and math skills.

Adequate yearly progress is defined by the state as, "the annual academic performance targets in reading and math that the state, school districts and schools must reach to be considered on track for 100-percent proficiency by school year 2013-14."

Raising expectations
This year, the state raised the expectations of all school districts. According to a press release from the State Board of Education, the expectations - also called cut scores - were altered to "align with the more rigorous Common Core Learning Standards and give a better indication of college and career readiness." 

School districts and individual schools in Central and Eastern Illinois that achieved adequate yearly progress were Potomac and Armstrong Township, St. Joseph-Ogden High School, Prairieview-Ogden and Atwood-Hammond.

Champaign schools, South Side Elementary and Bottenfield Elementary, all met the adequate yearly progress requirements, but did so under the "safe harbor" provision within the state's guidelines. Safe harbor means that a school met the requirement of reducing the number of students in each failing subgroup by 10 percent of the previous year's percentage. Subgroups are groups of students that share the same demographic, such as racial or ethnic background, developmental disabilities or living in a low-income household.

Schools on the west side of Chicago are also experiencing difficulty in raising the scores of certain subgroups as they adjust to the higher cut score standards. According to annual state report cards from the past decade, students within School District 97 in Oak Park, which is located just west of Chicago, have shown steady improvement in test scores each year.  Due to the raised standards, District 97's numbers fell 12 percent in reading and 17 percent in math. Despite the drop in scores in his district, Superintendent Albert Roberts believes that lower scores with higher standards is a sign of good things to come.

"If the standard is much higher and our kids fall a little short, they're still better off," Roberts said in a statement.

According to the Chicago Tribune, if the Illinois standards had remained the same as last year, District 97 would have seen a slight improvement in the percentage of students who met or exceeded the state's expectations in reading. There would have been a slight decrease in the percentage of students achieving adequate progress in math skills.

Subgroups to receive more attention
The focus of concern remains on students who are black, Latino, have disabilities or are living in low-income households. The majority of students attending classes in District 97 are black and the number of students in that demographic that passed the reading portion of the exam dropped 24 percent from 2012. The number of students passing the math skills exam fell 35 percent.

Students with disabilities performed poorly under the higher cut scores as well. The number of students who passed the reading exam dropped 25 percentage points and those passing the math portion dropped 38 percent.

Research shows that there may be subtle factors at work that prevent students in particularly disadvantaged subgroups from passing standardized testing. Peer pressure and negative stereotyping can affect a student's yearly performance and can create a stigma on education and learning as a whole.

In response to the growing gap in achievement among subgroups, District 97 is implementing programs to help every student, not just the ones who are excelling in school. iPads are being distributed to every individual and schools are increasing access to early learning programs. By focusing on the needs of these subgroups, they hope to close the achievement gap in the years to come.




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