WEST CHICAGO – Changes to the 2013 Illinois Student Achievement Test (ISAT) have led to lower scores across the state, and West Chicago Elementary School District 33 is no exception.
Compared to last year, the percentage of District 33 students who met or exceeded standards on the test declined by nearly 32 percentage points, about eight points more than the decline experienced statewide.
This year's ISAT included more challenging reading and math questions and new score expectations requiring students to score higher in order to meet or exceed standards. The changes were made to align the test to the more rigorous standards of Common Core and to prepare students for college and career readiness.
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has said the decline does not reflect student capability or teacher performance.
"Our greatest response is how we're handling that, how we're responding to the new cut scores," said Kristina Davis, the district's assistant superintendent for learning.
D-33 began implementing the new math curriculum last school year and the Common Core language arts curriculum is being rolled out this year, said Gina Steinbrecher, D-33's community relations specialist.
The district also is using a new math report card for students this school year to reflect the Common Core standards.
The percentage of D-33 students who met or exceeded standards on the ISAT was 40.5 percent in 2013, a decrease from 72 percent in 2012. Statewide, about 59 percent of students met or exceeded standards in 2013, compared to 82.5 percent in 2012.
According to numbers released by the district, 68 percent of district students would have met or exceeded standards if the old score expectations were used.
An important factor to consider when comparing D-33 numbers to statewide statistics is the composition of the district versus the state, Davis said.
"Our scores are going to look different because our population looks different," she said.
Since 2000, the percentage of low-income students in D-33 has grown from 22.6 percent to about 69 percent in 2013, according to Illinois District Report Card data compiled by ISBE.
Generally, a majority of students identified as "economically disadvantaged" at each grade level did not pass the ISAT reading and math sections.
If students' basic needs aren't being met, it makes it more difficult for them to learn, Davis said.
However, the district is facing its population challenges, rather than using them as an excuse for the scores, she said.
The district has several supports in place for students through its WeGo Together for Kids program, which provides services to families and links them to resources from more than 40 area community partners.
About 52 percent of district students are classified as "English learners" in D-33, and across the district, a majority of these students failed to meet or exceed standards on the ISAT for reading and math.
When students are in the process of learning English, it can be difficult to take a standardized test that's written entirely in English, Davis said.
The district has changed the way it teaches its language learners, by holding them to the same academic standards as the rest of the student body and incorporating more English into the bilingual classroom.
In light of the changes to standardized testing in the state, the district's focus is on making sure its students are growing, Davis said.
"We expect all of our students to have the same opportunities when they leave District 33," she said.