For the most part, students in Forest Park’s K-8 public schools are still hitting federal benchmarks used to measure learning, but Superintendent Lou Cavallo said he wasn’t overly impressed with this year’s scores.

There are bright spots in the latest round of Illinois Standards Achievement Test results, which were released Thursday at the district’s board meeting, but on the whole, test scores increased by a meager 1.3 percent. Each of the four elementary schools in District 91 made “adequate yearly progress” under the No Child Left Behind Act, but the Forest Park Middle School did not. Students in the special education department at the middle school were the lone subgroup in the district which failed to meet federal standards for proficiency, according to the scores.

Since joining the district in 2007, Cavallo has lamented the Catch 22 that he said is the federal government’s handling of special education students. It’s “frustrating,” he said, that students in this category are defined by an inability to do grade-level work, and then held to that standard for the test.

But as a whole, 73.9 percent of students in District 91 are meeting or exceeding those grade-level expectations. That figure is up slightly from 72.6 percent in 2007.

“I would not consider that to be a significant gain,” Cavallo said.

The ISAT is an annual exam administered in the fall to public school students across Illinois. It is used to measure learning in the subjects of reading, math and science, and provides insights into how specific groups of students are doing. In Illinois, it is the exam used to determine a school’s compliance with No Child Left Behind.

High school students in Illinois take the Prairie State Achievement Exam.

Educators are pleased with scores in several categories, and attribute impressive gains to recent changes in teaching strategies.

Two third-grade classrooms in Forest Park saw every student demonstrate a solid understanding of the material on the test. At Garfield Elementary the third-graders there aced both the reading and the math portion. At Betsy Ross Elementary the third-grade class was perfect in math.

Across all third-grade classrooms, 80 percent of students are reading at grade-level, compared to only 66 percent in 2007. In fifth-grade, a 12 percent gain was recorded in reading scores. According to Cavallo, a new reading curriculum established last year is responsible for the boost.

Sixth-graders at the middle school also posted higher scores in reading and math. For the third year now, students at the middle school who do not meet proficiency standards on the ISATs are culled into small lab in place of a study hall period, according to Principal Karen Bukowski. Though she isn’t ready to credit these “intensive tutoring” sessions with any bump in test scores, 40 percent of the kids turn around and hit ISAT benchmarks the following year, she said.

“We’ve done a lot of collaboration with our sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders,” Bukowski said.

In many categories, however, District 91 students are lagging behind their peers across the state, though on the whole, students here are only a percentage point behind statewide averages. In reading, students in grades four, six and seven all fell short of the average scores in Illinois. In math, that gap is even wider and applies to every grade-level but one – third grade. Science skills are measured only in fourth-grade and seventh-grade, and in both instances Forest Park’s students were several percentage points behind their peers.