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More than 82 percent of high school juniors attending District 209 cannot perform grade-level math, while an even greater number, 84 percent, struggle to understand scientific concepts. Three of every four students cannot read as well as their peers across the state.

Those dismal numbers were released last week by the State Board of Education as part of the latest round of school report cards compiled annually to help track academic performance in Illinois. According to the figures, public high school students in Proviso Township are being outperformed in every subject area and in nearly every demographic when compared to their counterparts statewide.

Also troubling is that within the district even fewer students demonstrated grade-level proficiency this year than last.

“I think the scores are low enough that we realize we need to make some changes,” Superintendent Robert Libka said.

Proviso Township high schools are not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress Standards under the federal No Child Left Behind act.

The district has been placed on the state’s academic watch list, a more serious standing than in 2006 when it received a warning. Under federal guidelines, administrators must take “corrective action” during the current school year.

According to Libka, that’s exactly what the district intends to do.

Reading coordinators have been placed in the schools to help students with what educators describe as an essential skill regardless of the particular subject. With only 25 percent of the district’s juniors reading at grade-level, they’re likely to struggle with word problems in mathematics and theorems in science. Other enhancements put in place during the previous school year with respect to IT systems are helping staff members better understand where students are struggling, Libka said.

“For me, the real story is in the initiatives to change these scores and bring about a significant difference in student achievement,” Libka said.

On Nov. 29 a district-wide discussion of those initiatives will take place at the Proviso Math and Science Academy. Community members are invited and can expect to hear in greater detail how the schools will begin to make improvements, Libka said.

Scores on the Prairie State Achievement Exam, used in Illinois to assess Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind, are based solely on student performance at Proviso East and West high schools. The test is taken by high school juniors and the math and science academy in Forest Park welcomed its first junior class this year.

The Prairie State Achievement Exam is the standardized test used in all Illinois public high schools to assess AYP. Scores are divided into one of four categories. Level one and level two scores indicate the student is not meeting state standards for proficiency. Those students ranging in the upper levels are demonstrating at least grade-level proficiency.