Jackson Adams, Bill Grimes and Tony Huffman
Effingham Daily News
The State Report Cards were released Thursday, and if taken on face value, scores on standardized tests within the districts are down drastically. However, despite the state board of education's decision to raise the grading scale bar that caused the lower scores, students actually fared slightly better than the state average.
“There are two reasons why the scores were lower,” said Effingham Unit 40 Curriculum Director Chelle Beck. “There was a higher bar on passing scores, and the test that kids took in March had questions that were connected to an upcoming change in curriculum.”
While the state average was 59 on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, with Effingham students scoring an average of 61, ISAT testing will soon become a thing of the past. In 2012, Effingham scored 86, compared to a state average of 83.
“This is part of a whole transition process for the state,” said Beck. “The scores don't mean that our students don't know or understand something, the cut score bar just got raised.”
Testing for next year will have several differences. According to Beck, the test, which is given to third- through eighth-graders, will have more critical thinking, writing assessments and multiple choice. Additionally, the test will be given on a computer, rather than with pencil and paper.
The new test is called the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College Careers, or PARCC, which will be a uniformed test for 18 states. Effingham schools will be part of a pilot program in March or April to test the PARCC test.
“We are going through a lot right now managing our district,” said Beck. “We are doing the very best we can.”
Beck complemented teachers, administration and the community for their patience and support during this transition.
“In five years, when we get through the bumps in the road, we are going to come out with a much better system,” said Beck. “Hopefully this system will help students be more critical thinkers.”
Elsewhere in Effingham County, school officials are showing little concern about the lower scores created by raising the standards.
Dieterich Unit 30 Superintendent Cary Jackson, who began his educational career as a track coach, compared the change to a high jumper who earned a trip to the NCAA national meet one year, but missed a repeat after the standards changed.
"Say the kid jumped 7 feet one year and made nationals," Jackson said. "He jumped 7-1 the next year, but missed nationals because the qualifying height was raised to 7-3."
Jackson said the higher standards that have resulted in the lower percentage of those who meet or exceed state standards are of no concern.
"The fact that the state raised the cut scores should not affect the way we do things at all," he said.
Teutopolis Unit 50 Superintendent Bill Fritcher said the pending change in standardized testing lessens the relevance of the report cards released Thursday.
"There's a degree of relevance, but we can't look at trend data," Fritcher said. "Not only is this year's ISAT different than last year, but we will be taking a totally different test next year."
The PARCC test — to begin being administered next school year — is supposed to line up better with Common Core than other types of standardized tests.
"The new test will give us a better idea of how our grade school students will do in high school," Fritcher said.
Like Jackson, Fritcher said he's not concerned about the performance of his students.
"There's no cause for concern as long as people understand the scores are lower because the bar is being raised, and not because their children are doing worse," he said.
Fritcher said parents can access information about the changes on the Unit 50 website.
Dieterich Elementary School Principal Kathy Pattenaude said she is pleased with the progress her teachers are making in mastering the Common Core curriculum but said there's more work to do.
"Our teachers will have to see what aspects of the standards are not taught and incorporate those to meet our goals," she said.
Jackson said it will take several years before school professionals can track the success of the Common Core curriculum and the PARCC test.
"We know the change is coming, but until we get into it, we will need a couple of years of data to work with."
Altamont Superintendent Jeff Fritchtnitch said although scores may appear lower with the new standards, the district is taking the higher standards as an inspiration for wide-reaching improvements.
"When the state raises the bar we say, 'OK, we have to raise our bar,'" he said. "We don't want to be just as good as the state, we want to be above that. Good enough is not good enough."
Fritchtnitch said it is important for parents and residents to keep in mind the variables among low income, special education and disabled students in each district.
"When you look at these test scores, one of the things to look at is the demographics," he said. "If I was a parent looking to move to the Effingham County area, that's something that I would want to know: 'What district is going to help my student the most?' When you look at the snapshot, there's a lot of variables and all of those things need to be considered."
Jasper County Superintendent Dan Cox said analyzing the numbers for any given year is less important than looking at the larger trends in education, with differing tests and standards being released each year.
"You can't look at it year to year, you have to look at it from a perspective of the trend," he said. "Are we making improvements in instruction? Absoulutely. We've made great strides."
Cox said changes in standards, as well as the introduction of Common Core this year are jumping off places for further discussions about instruction within the district.
"A positive I have seen with Common Core standards is there are more deep instructional conversations between teachers and principals and teachers and parents," he said. "We're talking about the best instructional practices and ways teachers can be involved. Schools everywhere are now talking about instruction and the best practices for students."
To see how your school scored and get an analysis of the data, visit http://reportcards.dailyherald.com.