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Schools challenged by higher test standards

(MCT) — Confronted with new, more rigorous testing that likely will mean many students failing to meet or exceed state standards, school districts in Northbrook and Glenview are gearing up to warn parents and explain the results expected in the fall.

Beth Tsoumas, executive director for curriculum instruction and assessment in Glenview Elementary School District 34, told school board members at a recent meeting that while they're used to seeing scores improve, this year will be different. She said she expects more of a drop in math scores than reading, and for some students formerly in the "exceed" standards category to fall to "meets."

Based on an analysis of 2012 data, there could be an 8 percent to 10 percent jump in the "below standards" category, she said.

"The best we could do to prepare is to increase people's knowledge about what the new cut scores would be," Tsoumas said.

The Illinois State Board of Education voted last month to raise the cut scores for the math and reading parts of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, which students from third to eighth grades take every year in March. The new scores will be on par with the Common Core State Standards that many schools around the state already have started implementing. Twenty percent of the test's questions will align with the Common Core Standards.

In addition, requirements for the federal No Child Left Behind law have changed as well. The percentage of students in each school who must meet or exceed standards for the school to reach the Average Yearly Progress benchmark has been raised to 92.5 percent from last year's 85 percent.

The state board implemented the tougher standards to lay a foundation for replacing the ISAT test in the 2014-15 school year. The new test is called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

In 2012 statewide, ISAT results showed that 76 percent to 88 percent of all third- and eighth-graders met or exceeded standards in reading and mathematics, according to a Tribune analysis. But under the new higher scores, that percentage of students could drop to 56 percent to 62 percent. Across all grades, the state raised the scores by about 13 to 17 points in reading and 21 to 30 points in math.

Other school district officials also are working on expectations.

"What we really want is to make sure the community understands that this doesn't mean that our students are learning less," said Kathy Horvath, assistant superintendent for the Northbrook School District 28.

In a newsletter, the district reported that it expects the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards could drop between 5 percent and 18 percent, depending on grade level and subject.

"We want to make sure that parents really understand and expect this, so they don't feel too bad about it," Horvath said.

Northbrook School District 27 Assistant Superintendent Katharine Olson said the district will have to adjust to the new scores.

"The big thing for parents is that they understand how to interpret the scores," Olson said.

Northbrook/Glenview School District 30 Assistant Superintendent Melissa Hirsch said she sees the expected challenges with the test as an opportunity for the district to reassess its instructional practices as needed.

"This is not something that we're being off put by," Hirsch said.

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