Schools are on the learning end as new standards are implemented
BY SUSAN DEMAR LAFFERTY email@example.com September 22, 2013 10:40PM
Ray Lauk | Supplied photo
Updated: October 24, 2013 6:20AM
School officials are analyzing the recently released Illinois Standards Achievement Test scores from exams taken in the spring, which — as predicted — dropped overall, as the standards were raised.
Throughout the state, fewer students met or exceeded state standards in math and reading, but the 2013 test cannot be compared with the 2012 test, superintendents of local school districts said.
“It’s not a dip but a whole new start,” Cook County School District 130 Supt. Ray Lauk said, referring to the implementation of the new, more rigorous Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 46 states, including Illinois. “It’s a new test. This is our new baseline.”
Twenty percent of the questions on the 2013 ISAT were related to the new Common Core standards, and the 2014 spring test will be geared 100 percent to the new standards, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Then, in the 2014-15 school year, state schools are expected to use a whole new online test — the Partnership for Assessment for College and Careers (PARCC), which will measure student growth more than once a year.
Schools gradually have implemented entirely new curriculums based on these tougher standards, focusing first on math and language arts over the last two or three years, but it “will take time for what happens in the classroom to catch up with the new standards,” Homewood School District 153 Supt. Dale Mitchell said.
“You really can’t compare (ISAT scores) 2012 and 2013,” Mitchell said. He said he asked state Supt. Chris Koch for more time to transition, or at least use the tougher ISAT as a pilot.
“I don’t agree with how they implemented this. It does not do kids any good to feel like a failure,” Mitchell said, referring to students who previously always made the standards but didn’t this year.
“All people see is a drop in the scores. Most people do not read the second paragraph. We have a lot of explaining to do,” he said.
Not all students are ready to get over the higher hurdles and will be “frustrated,” he said. “I assume our scores will drop next spring, too.
“The hurdles didn’t need to be raised for Homewood schools. We can demonstrate that our kids are growing, and this gives kids confidence,” he said.
The fact that fewer students met the standards does not mean they are not learning and growing or that teachers are not doing their jobs, or that there are problems with the curriculum, local school officials said.
It means the state changed the grading curve, raised the bar and made the hurdles higher, they said. Common Core is more rigorous, more involved and focuses on higher thinking and deeper understanding of concepts and their application in the real world, they said.
Frankfort School District 157C Assistant Supt. Curt Saindon said he knew scores would go down, but the district maintained its standing when compared with others.
“We have always been among the top in Will County and we still are,” Saindon said.
Before, the percentage of Frankfort students who met or exceeded state goals was in the low to mid-90s; now it’s in the 80s, he said.
Students in Homer Community Consolidated District 33C averaged a 19-point drop, Supt. Mike Morrow said.
Previous scores showed about 90 percent of students meeting/exceeding state goals. Now that mark is 60 to 70 percent in reading and math, he said.
“You never like to see scores drop, but this is an acceptable adjustment,” Morrow said. “We have to refocus now that we know what we’re up against.”
The district is in its third year of implementing new Common Core math and language arts curriculums.
“We’re seeing more Common Core instruction, especially in math,” he said.
The new math focuses on the process, not just the answer, and students have to explain how and why they got the answer.
“It’s more analytical and thought-generating,” Morrow said. “In the long run, it’s a good thing. It will be a curious couple of years.”
New standards in science and social studies also are on the horizon.
While the state will issue new state and school report cards this fall, school districts may also eventually change their quarterly report cards to parents to reflect specific Common Core skills and how well their students are mastering those, rather than the traditional letter grades. Teacher evaluations also will have to factor in student growth.
“Some parents embraced the new changes and said it makes perfect sense. Some don’t like it. They want A-B-Cs, not a touchy-feely report card,” Saindon said. “We’re looking at what is best for the kids and what is the best way to communicate this to the parents.”
While there is always some uncertainty and apprehension with change, Saindon said they “feel good” about where these Common Core changes are taking them.
Common Core replaces No Child Left Behind, which technically expires in 2014. The goal of that program was to have 100 percent of all students meeting educational standards by that time.
While good things came out of NCLB, “the end result was not realistic,” Saindon said. “It was punitive for those who didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress. It didn’t factor in socioeconomic issues, and that’s not fair.”
Even though NCLB ends next year, it “still means something” this year, Mitchell said.
His district traditionally has made AYP but will not this year, which could impact the $200,000 it gets in federal funds.
“It doesn’t make any sense with all we do here,” he said. “They continue with new mandates and we have to do more with less money.”
Unlike NCLB, the new Common Core curriculum “seems realistic,” Saindon said. “It will be interesting to see how the state implements it. Will it be an opportunity to help students or will it be a hammer to harp on the ills of public education?
“I hope it identifies ways to make (education) beneficial and fun for kids,” he said. “It’s not boring — that’s for sure.”