District 428 test changes part of transition to new evaluation

DeKALB – Going strictly by the numbers, it appears that DeKalb School District 428 had significant declines in annual yearly progress as set forth by No Child Left Behind.

However, as explained in the annual presentation about the state of the school district, this is because of a change state leaders made in what counts as a passing score, or cut score, not because of an actual decline in student ability, Superintendent James Briscoe told school board members Tuesday.

Currently, elementary and middle school students take the Illinois Standard Achievement Test. High school students take the Prairie State Achievement Examination, which resembles the ACT, the college admissions test.

“The ISAT is not that rigorous, and the PSAE is,” Briscoe said. “This means that it appears that students are doing very well up through middle school, and then do poorly once they reach high school.”

According to the data for District 428 standardized test scores, students were showing growth from 2005 through 2012, and then there are up to 30 percent declines in 2013 scores.

In the 2014-15 school year, Illinois schools will begin to administer the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. This assessment will be more rigorous than the current standardized tests and focus more on critical thinking ability, Briscoe said. In order to show the need for the change, the state changed the cut score for elementary and middle school students to more accurately reflect their current standing.

The new assessment will be given in both the spring and the fall, as opposed to once a year with current standardized testing, so there is more accurate information on individual student growth. The tests also will be given on computers, and scores will be available instantly.

“There’s no value in the current testing because every year it’s a different cohort,” Briscoe said. “You can’t see if an individual group has made improvements throughout the year. I’m actually really excited about [the new test]. I’m excited about the possibility of improving instruction and curriculum because of the new model.”

Starting in 2016, teacher evaluations will focus heavily on the progress that students make throughout the year as measured by the new test.