State releases test scores
At a time when the state raised expectations for its students on the math and reading portions of the standardized tests it uses to compile state report cards, a few local districts made what is called "adequate yearly progress," as did several more individual schools in the area.
The state Thursday released last year's test score results, as well as a new version of school report cards it says shows student growth over time in reading and math.
The report cards are available at illinoisreportcard.com.
For last year, the state board raised expectations — or what it calls "cut scores" on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test's math and reading proficiency expectations, which third- through eighth-graders take — "to align with the more rigorous Common Core Learning Standards and give a better indication of college and career readiness."
It did not raise the expectations for science scores, as it has not adopted new state standards for science.
Local school districts that made adequate yearly progress were the Prairieview-Ogden, St. Joseph-Ogden High School, Atwood-Hammond, Potomac and Armstrong Township.
The state defines adequate yearly progress as "the annual academic performance targets in reading and math that the sate, school districts and schools must reach to be considered on track for 100 percent proficiency by school year 2013-14."
However, both in school districts that made that goal, or benchmark, and those that didn't, administrators say the results from state tests are just one way they measure their students.
In Champaign, South Side Elementary and Bottenfield Elementary made adequate yearly progress through "safe harbor," which is what the state board defines "if each subgroup that fails to reach its proficiency performance targets reduces its percentage of students not meeting standards by 10 percent of the previous year's percentage," according to the state board of education.
A subgroup is a group of students who share the same demographics, such as a certain racial or ethnic background, are low income, have disabilities or don't speak English as their first language.
Champaign Superintendent Judy Wiegand said she's proud of those schools, and that test results show the school district a snapshot of students' performance on state tests.
"It shows how students are responding to our curriculum instruction," Wiegand said, adding that she's glad the state is now aligning its expectations for third- through eight-graders with the Prairie State Achievement Test, which students take their junior year of high school and includes the ACT.
Wiegand said the school district's results this year reflect the state's higher standards and aren't a poor reflection on Champaign's teachers and students.
Trevor Nadrozny, the school district's director of curriculum, said the district has analyzed last year's test data, as well as that from the year before, and found that student achievement is level, even as the state has raised its standards.
Wiegand said the school report cards also show a 4.7 percent increase in total graduation rate this year, which she said is a reflection of support that high school students have been receiving and that students are improving in earning enough credits to advance through high school.
Wiegand said Champaign is making improvements in closing the graduation gap between white and African-American students; the gap showed an 11.1 percent total decrease last year.
Urbana's Prairie Elementary made adequate yearly progress last year through safe harbor, as well.
Urbana Superintendent Don Owen said one drawback of the current testing process the scores reflect "is that it relies on a single multiple-choice test that is given once per year, and is not able to show student growth or provide meaningful instructional feedback to teachers."
Owen said the standardized tests for elementary, middle and high school students don't reflect their "talents in music, the arts or critical thinking, ... a student's resilience or their character."
Owen said Urbana will use the results from state testing, along with results from other assessments "to improve our practice and our outcomes for students."
"What we will not do is change our instructional methods just to teach to a test," Owen said. "The focus of our improvement efforts will always be on preparing our students for their future."
Other schools that made adequate yearly progress individually include St. Joseph Elementary School, Honeywell Elementary School in Hoopeston, Maple Elementary School in Hoopeston, White Heath Elementary School, Iroquois West elementary schools in Gilman and Thawville, Lincoln Elementary School in Clinton and Deland-Weldon Middle School.
Area high schools that made adequate yearly progress include Paxton-Buckley-Loda, Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley, Villa Grove, Arcola, Bismarck-Henning, Catlin, Unity, Heritage, Jamaica, Oakwood, Armstrong, LeRoy and Clinton.
St. Joseph-Ogden Principal Brian Brooks said it was nice to hear the news that his district made adequate yearly progress.
"However, at this point in the game with the No Child Left Behind laws, we don't put as much stock into that as we do trying to track the growth of our students from year to year," Brooks said.
The report doesn't compare the same group of students, he said, and "each class of students has different academic strengths and weaknesses" and some classes are stronger than others.
"We have very strong teachers and curriculum at SJO, and we are fortunate in that we also have a community that places a high emphasis on academics with their children inside their homes," Brooks said "The combination of those two things has led our students to do very well over the years on state tests when compared to high schools across the state."
The school also does extra preparation with its juniors during their homeroom time each week, Brooks said, a program that's been in place for a couple of years.
"Our primary goal with this is to hopefully be able to give those students that may be on the borderline of meeting state standards the extra boost they need to get them over the top," he said. "This was an implementation taken from our school improvement team."
Prairieview-Ogden made adequate yearly progress this year, as it has every year possible, said Superintendent Vic White.
He said that's because of a combination of factors: "a community that takes pride in having great academics, parents that work with our teachers, and the dedication of teachers and teacher aides who help all students be successful."
White says his district uses school report cards as a way to compare itself with other school districts, but doing well on state tests is only one of its goals.
"Our main goal is having success for our students," he said.
Jamie Dorsey, who is both principal and superintendent at Potomac Grade School, said she believes the school's small class sizes and the way it monitors students' progress both contributed to making adequate yearly progress.
"We're able to keep up on individual students' needs," she said.