The state raised the bar this year for passing grades on the Illinois Scholastic Achievement Test (ISAT) and results were not pretty for Forest Park Elementary School District 91 and other districts throughout the state. Overall test results for students in District 91 continue to trail state averages.

Under the new, tougher grading standards the percentage of Forest Park students that met or exceeded state standards fell nearly 30 points from 78 percent in 2012 to 49 percent this year on the test given to every third through eighth grader who attends public school in Illinois. Statewide the percentage that met or exceeded state standards fell from 83 percent to 59 percent.

One reason the state board of education decided to raise the so called cut scores, or the score deemed to meet or exceed state standards for elementary school students was to better align ISAT test results to the high school Prairie State Achievement Exam where standards have been tougher.

“We recognized that we needed to raise the bar,” said Mary Fergus, a spokesperson for the Illinois State Board of Education. “It was showing like 80 percent of kids were meeting and exceeding in grade school and then they get to high school and only 50 percent were meeting and exceeding. We realized there was an issue there. We’re testing at college and career readiness for each grade level. You’re supposed to be at a certain point in third grade and fourth grade and fifth grade so that when you get to 11th grade and 12th grade you’re ready for college.”

Standards are being raised in the classroom with the coming implementation of the Common Core curriculum and the state board wanted those raised expectations reflected in the ISATs.

“We raised the learning expectations in the classroom and we raised the performance standards on the test,” Fergus said. “It’s not an easy move. It’s not easy to see scores decline, but our board state superintendent (Christopher) Koch would say it’s the right thing to do. When you know they’re going to be held to higher standards why wait.”

At Forest Park Middle School (FPMS) 49 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in the test given last spring. In 2012 under the easier grading system 76 percent of FPMS students made the grade. If the current cut scores had been in effect in 2012 47 percent, instead of 76 percent, of FPMS students would have met or exceeded state standards so the 2103 results are actually a small improvement over 2012 at the middle school.

At Grant-White School 50 percent of students met or exceeded state standards a drop from the 55 percent of Grant-White students who would have met or exceeded the current standards if they had been in effect in 2012. Under the 2012 standards 84 percent of Grant-White students met the state standards.

At Field-Stevenson School 48 percent of students met or exceeded the state standards, a drop of five percent from the 2012 results when they are graded on the 2103 standards.

There are no results for Garfield and Betsy Ross Schools because first and second graders do not take the ISAT.

Statewide, under the rescored 2012 test scores, the students’ performance stayed the same with 59 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards in 2013.

District 91 serves a diverse student population. 49.8 percent of the district’s students are black, 23.4 percent white, 14.5 percent Hispanic, 7.7 percent are multiracial and 4.4 percent are Asian. 35.9 percent of the district’s students are classified as low income.

Statewide 50.6 percent of Illinois public school students are white, 24.1 percent are Hispanic, 17.6 percent are black, and 4.4 percent are Asian.

The 2013 test results showed stark differences in the performance among the different racial groups in District 91. Forty-eight percent of black students met or exceeded state standards in reading while only 31 percent of black students did so in math. Among white students 75 percent met or exceeded state standards in reading while 60 percent did so in math. Fifty-one percent of Hispanic students met or exceeded state standards in reading while 41 percent did so in math.

District 91 superintendent Lou Cavallo was out sick when the Review was preparing this story. Reached on his cell phone the ill Cavallo said he would prefer not to comment until he delivers a report to the school board at its Nov. 14 meeting.

“There will be information given there,” Cavallo said.

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