Two years ago, only one out of every four juniors attending Proviso Township high schools were actually doing 11th-grade work. According to the latest round of standardized test scores released by the state last week, that dismal ratio is even worse, with one of every five 11th-grade students keeping pace with Illinois standards.

In a year when elementary schools across the state announced record gains, results for the 2006 Prairie State Achievement Exam show high schools largely fell flat. For educators at Proviso East and Proviso West high schools, the poor showing can be added to a pile of daunting challenges that have plagued District 209 for years.






“It really has everything to do with the plan that the district has followed with respect to student performance,” Superintendent Stan Fields said. “More specifically, that the district has had no plan; there is no direction.”

The PSAE is administered to high school juniors over the course of two days, and consists of two separate tests. The ACT is a college-entrance exam covering math, reading and science, and is taken on the first day.

Students at Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park did not take the PSAE, because the school does not yet have any 11th-grade students.

Students at both East and West turned in an average score of 20.8 on the combined exam, which represents the number of students who demonstrate grade-level proficiency. In 2005, 25 percent of the students met grade-level expectations.

Throughout the state, roughly 55 percent of high school juniors are meeting proficiency standards.

On the 2006 exam, Proviso students generally scored lower than they did in 2005. Average scores in reading, math and science all fell. Also, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations saw declines across the board.

Almost 72 percent of District 209 juniors aren’t reading at an 11th-grade level. More than 81 percent can’t perform grade-level math and more than 84 percent aren’t meeting state proficiency standards in science.

“I don’t believe anyone on the board, in the school district or in the community is happy with the academic standing of our schools,” board President Chris Welch said.

Within student subgroups, white students are doing markedly better work than their black and Hispanic counterparts. Seventy-five percent of white students are reading at grade-level, compared with 74 percent of black students and 78 percent of Hispanics who are not.

The disparity shrinks in math and science where some 56 percent of white kids are meeting or exceeding standards. In science, white students are evenly divided by the threshold for proficiency.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of black students at Proviso are not meeting state standards in math, and more than 87 percent fall below the mark in science. More than 73 percent of Hispanic kids aren’t meeting state expectations in math and some 80 percent missed the mark in science.

“These scores reflect how crucial it is for us to work together and get behind a superintendent who knows what he is doing, regardless of who’s in charge on the board,” Welch said.

In recent months, the school board has been bombarded with rhetoric from the district’s superintendent on the need to establish new priorities. Fields has openly criticized the district’s past practices of floating fat contracts to inefficient administrators and consultants, all the while neglecting classroom needs. Prior to the release of the PSAE scores, Fields presented the board with a revised mission statement and new policies to support reform efforts. Those initiatives were approved at Monday’s board of education meeting.

“There have been no priorities for spending, other than the self-serving needs of those in control,” Fields said of Dist. 209’s recent past.

According to the 2006 state report card, a breakdown of the district’s expenditures shows 31 percent of its budget is spent on instruction. On average, high school districts in Illinois funnel more than 47 percent of their budgets directly into the classroom.