In an attempt to slowly change the academic culture of Proviso Township High School District 209, teachers, administrators – even the PTO – have been reminding students of the importance of state testing. The results seem to have paid off with significantly more participation, especially at Proviso East High School.
High school juniors across Illinois take a back-to-back series of state assessments the last week in April. The first day students take the ACT, a test score that many use to apply to college. But the second day (April 24 this year) students take the PSAE (Prairie State Achievement Exam), a test that measures the school more than the student.
The results of the PSAE are “test scores” used to quickly compare schools by everyone from real estate agents to government funding organizations.
In years past, D 209, especially Proviso East, have had significant student no-shows for the second day of testing. For many students, it’s a free day off school. Last year, 26 percent (around 90) Proviso East students didn’t participate in the second day of testing.
This is a part of school culture that Supt. Nettie Collins-Hart has told the D209 school board she has been trying to address since January. While actual test scores won’t be known till summer, participation improved dramatically this year.
A vocal boycott of the PSAE April 24 in Chicago by about 300 students to protest Chicago Public School closings seems not to have spread to Proviso.
This year, 97 percent of Proviso East students showed up for the second day or took the PSAE later as a makeup, up from 74 percent last year. At Proviso West 95.7 percent took the PSAE. One hundred percent of students took both tests for the past two years at Proviso Math and Science Academy in Forest Park. The district also instituted an aggressive make-up campaign to track down students who missed either test day.
Each school is expected to meet 95 percent participation in order to meet Federal Adequate Yearly Progress standards (AYP).
Changes from the Illinois State Board of Education
Two new elements were in play this year: First, the Illinois State Board of Education instituted a third Day 2 test: The ACT Work Keys Assessment – taken after the PSAE.
This new test assesses skills that students need to work in the real world outside of school: They include interpreting charts or graphs, such as reading a pressure gauge or spreadsheet.
Second, Collins-Hart has told the board that the district was taking the tests seriously, including test-prep classes, a practice ACT in January and breakfast for students. Students participated in a PSAE prep course called KeyTrain during the school day.
The schools also held pep assemblies encouraging students to “do your best on the test” and a banner and poster campaign was launched.
Test participation has been a contentious issue at board meetings, because it undercuts increases in test scores touted by the district, board member Kevin McDermott has pointed out. Board member Brian Cross admitted at one meeting that the culture of skipping the second day of testing was prevalent even in his high school days. Board members running in April’s election unanimously said test scores were their top concern at a Forest Park election forum in March.
“This test is the measure on which the state judges our schools,” Collins-Hart said in a press release. “The students recognized this, and they should be congratulated.”
It remains to be seen whether the added participation of around 70 students who may previously have missed the test day deliberately will raise or lower test scores overall in the district. Make up tests were held May 7 and 8 and missing students were “actively followed up to maximize participation,” the release said.