By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
As Quincy schools prepare to administer the Illinois State Achievement Test for grades 3 through 8 next week, school officials across Illinois are explaining some major changes in how the test is scored.
The Illinois State Board of Education last month decided to raise the performance levels of the ISAT so the higher expectations will align more closely with the more rigorous Common Core state standards being adopted in Illinois.
The ISBE changed the "cut scores" used to grade the ISAT. This is expected to cause test results for students -- and entire schools -- to worsen initially compared with previous years.
"Your student will have to score higher in order to meet or exceed standards," said a "Frequently Asked Questions for Parents" document circulated by the ISBE.
"As a result, some students who previously met standards will now be classified as needing improvement. This shift in where students rank will likely be significant."
The ISBE said the revised scoring system "is similar to changing a grading scale from where 90-100 was considered an A to now 94-100 is considered an A."
In a news release issued this week, State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said the ISAT scoring system is being changed "so we can obtain a more accurate picture of where students stand against college and career readiness. I fully expect that students and teachers will rise to these new expectations as they have done in the past."
Illinois went through a similar transition more than a decade ago when it became one of the first states to require all 11th-graders to take the American College Test as part of the Prairie State Achievement Exam given to high school students. When Illinois expanded the ACT testing pool to include all students -- even those not planning to attend college -- the state's composite score initially dropped. It has since increased incrementally over time, Koch said.
The ISAT is used as part of the state and federal school-accountability system. The test assesses students in reading, math and science. However, Koch said it has not proven to be a strong indicator of college and career readiness.
At the Quincy School Board's Feb. 20 meeting, board member Jeff Mays said he was glad to see the state taking steps to modify the ISAT scoring system so it more closely aligns with the higher expectations for high school students, whose test scores have tended to drop sharply when compared with eighth-grade test scores.
Mays said local students "are flying out of eighth grade ‘meeting' and ‘exceeding' (testing expectations) and they're coming into ninth grade and getting stupid. That's not good."
According to the ISBE, ISAT results from 2012 showed 79 percent of all Illinois students in grades 3 through 8 scored proficient in reading and 86 percent scored proficient in mathematics. If the newly adopted scoring system had been used in 2012, the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards would have dropped to 60 percent for both reading and math.
"This drop is a result of raising expectations -- not a reflection of student or teacher performance," the ISBE said in the news release.
Schools throughout the Quincy School District have been urging parents to get their students ready for the ISAT, which will be given next week in the district's elementary schools, Baldwin Intermediate School and Quincy Junior High School.
QJHS, for example, sent a letter to parents of seventh- and eighth-graders who will be taking the ISAT Monday through Thursday. The letter urges parents to make sure students get a good night's sleep and eat breakfast before each test. It also encourages parents to make sure their children attend school on test days and ask questions if they don't understand any test directions. QJHS students also were reminded to bring calculators to each testing period.
Ninth-graders at QJHS will not take the ISAT. Instead, they will participate in various activities during the testing periods. The letter says teachers of seventh- and eighth-graders will not assign homework on days tests are administered.