Southland school officials: Testing standards ‘a whole new ballgame’
Officials at Southland elementary schools are preparing for expected backlash from parents who may think less learning is taking place in classrooms after tougher benchmarks for standardized tests kick in next month.
North Palos School District 117 Supt. Jeannie Stachowiak said information she received from the state indicates that if 90 percent of students previously were deemed to be meeting state standards, a school could expect that to drop to 75 percent under a new measurement formula.
“It’s going to be an adventure, but we’ll get through this,” she said. “We’re all for updating standards.”
The percentage drop, she emphasized, does not mean students are not as smart.
“We have bright kids and a hardworking staff,” she said, adding that parents will be warned about the changes in March when students take the state tests.
In Tinley Park-based Kirby School District 140, Supt. Michael Byrne is making a pre-emptive strike.
“We’ll be sending a note home with parents alerting them to the fact that what their kids are learning has not changed. What has changed are the scoring standards by the state,” he said.
The state “is alleging that now our scores and the high school scores are not in synch,” Byrne said. “Rather than ease up scoring standards for high schools, they are making ours more difficult. But our kids are still learning at an adequate or an above-adequate rate. They’re making great progress.”
Byrne expects it will take a few years for things to even out, but until then, some students who had been meeting or exceeding the standards may not.
Byrne finds it ironic that “a state that’s already broke is going to be more involved in schools,” he said. “They give us the bar every year to make progress. Every year, the bar is raised. We struggle to go up every year. ... and now we have a 10-pound weight on our back as we try to jump over the bar.”
“We’re not just tweaking state standards. It’s a whole new ballgame,” said Ray Lauk, superintendent of Blue Island-based Cook County School District 130.
His district already has implemented a reading curriculum aligned with new standards and is now doing that with math.
Lauk believes teachers will be more focused on the scores than the general community will be, and the teachers will use the scores as the basis for improvement.
“There is so much more to school than that,” he said.
Students in Frankfort Community Consolidated School District 157C consistently have placed well above state averages on the standardized tests, and Supt. Thomas Hurlburt said he is confident they will do well with the more rigorous standards and the test changes.
“The bottom line is still educating kids,” he said. “We are still relying on the value of our teaching. We haven’t stopped the fundamental things going on in our classrooms.”