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School achievement scores little changed from last year

(MCT) — Scores on state achievement tests barely budged in 2012, with results still troubling for Illinois high school students.

About half of all 11th-graders flunked the Prairie State Achievement Examination, which includes the ACT college entrance exam, and most juniors were not considered prepared for key college classes based on their scores, according to data being released Wednesday as part of the Illinois State Board of Education's annual School Report Cards.

Graduation rates also dipped across the state, and the majority of schools failed federal academic standards in math and reading — similar to results last year's.

"You really have to look at the whole picture," said Gery Chico, chairman of the state board. "I don't think anyone here is satisfied with our performance levels. We never should be satisfied. That's not how you are going to improve."

More than 80 percent of grade school students passed the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, almost identical to last year, but state officials acknowledge that those exams are too easy to pass. The state plans to change the scores required to pass ISAT next year, which is expected to result in a decline in passing rates.

"There's a lot of anxiety about raising the cut score," State School Superintendent Christopher Koch said Tuesday. "Our strategy is to try to prepare districts for that now."

When the new passing scores are established later this year, the state plans to provide districts with information on how their schools would have performed in 2012 had the new standards been in place. That way they'll have an idea of what the future will bring.

Illinois is looking ahead to a new era of testing.

New state exams will be launched in 2014-15, based on new standards. The state also is moving to a testing system that takes into account how much a student grows academically each year — not simply whether a child passes or flunks a state exam in the spring.

For now, the 2012 results from state testing last spring represent the latest picture of how Illinois students are doing.

Just 51.3 percent of 11th-graders passed the two-day Prairie State exam. That's a slight improvement over last year, when juniors hit an all-time low over a decade with a passing rate of 50.5 percent.

A Tribune analysis of the ACT scores posted by juniors as part of the 2012 Prairie State exam showed that most students are not prepared for college-level work in key freshman classes. Statewide, only 27 percent of the juniors were considered prepared in science, 39 percent in math and 40 percent in reading, based on ACT's "college-ready" scores in each of those subjects. The juniors did best in English, with about 60 percent considered college-ready in that subject.

In grade school, statewide scores were stagnant on the 2012 ISAT exams, with 82.1 percent of students passing the tests compared with 82 percent the year before. Third- through eighth-graders take the reading and math tests, and fourth- and seventh-graders also took the state science exam.

Koch pointed out some positives in the 2012 results, including that the percentage of 11th-graders passing the Prairie State science test rose to 51.7 percent in 2012, up from 49.2 percent the year before.

In other results, the majority of schools again failed to meet federal academic standards in math and reading required under the No Child Left Behind law enacted in 2002.

Under the federal reforms, schools have to meet passing requirements on the state exams each year or they fail to make what is called Adequate Yearly Progress, or AYP for short. In 2011-12, 2,545 out of 3,873 schools, or 66 percent, did not make AYP. That compares with 65 percent last year. Only 11 high schools in the state met AYP, including several selective schools in the Chicago Public Schools system and Deerfield High School in Lake County.

The AYP picture didn't get better even though the state got a break from the federal government: It was allowed to freeze the passing requirement on state exams at last year's level. Had the requirement gone up, more schools likely would have failed.

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