DeKALB – Illinois school report cards were released this week, but for DeKalb County school administrators, the report cards and test scores are only part of a larger data set.
Most school districts rely more on assessments that give them real-time feedback for current students, instead of the report cards that assessed students nearly six months ago.
Illinoisreportcard.com is chock full of demographic data from schools, as well as the results of standardized tests taken in the spring. Students in third through eighth grade took a Pearson test developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, better known as PARCC. High school juniors took the SAT. Both have been implemented as a way to measure student achievement as it relates to Common Core standards.
For area schools, however, these scores are only one way to measure student achievement, and not necessarily the best.
“It gives us a global picture,” said Amy Luckner, assessment and research coordinator at DeKalb School District 428. “We pair it with other data.”
Luckner said that throughout the year, teachers give their own assessments, as well as assessments written or bought by the district to gauge student performance.
Throughout the year, the schools continuously monitor students, Luckner said, and provide support and anything else students need.
With three years of PARCC data now, trends are being spotted in Sycamore School District 427.
“We can start to compare apples to apples,” said Kristine Webster, the district’s director of curriculum.
Because the data takes so long to get to schools, however, some administrators use it as a benchmark, rather than to drive major changes.
“We respect the data, but not a lot of decisions are based on that,” Webster said.
Instead, Sycamore schools administer a number of assessments throughout the year to measure, in much more real time, how students are mastering skills and meeting Illinois standards.
The percentage of Sycamore students meeting or exceeding expectations, as measured by PARCC, ranged from 22 percent to 57 percent from school to school.
“We want kids to be excited to come to school every day,” Webster said, adding that constant testing isn’t what school is about. “We’re about kids creating happy lives.”
The data also show that DeKalb County schools with lower test scores tend to follow the larger trend of having higher populations of low-income students or students who lack English-language proficiency.
DeKalb Superintendent Jamie Craven said it also doesn’t do much good to follow the data just year over year. Instead, he looks at the data and follows the students. DeKalb schools varied in their PARCC results, from Jefferson Elementary School where 30 percent of students met or exceeded state standards, to Founders Elementary, where 11 percent did so.
“We look at how each cohort performs as it move through the system,” Craven said. “We meet the student where they are when they come to us and make sure they grow each year.”
For about a decade, the ACT was the yardstick in Illinois by which student achievement was measured. Then came the Common Core standards, and the SAT was redesigned to line up with the new standards. The 2016-17 school year was the first during which Illinois students had to take the SAT.
At Indian Creek High School, which had the highest average SAT score for a high school in the county at 1044, Principal Sarah Montgomery said her school uses a variety a tests to triangulate how students are performing throughout the course of the year, including tests written by teachers and online tests through Khan Academy.
“We don’t put all of our eggs in one basket,” she said. “[The SAT] is one data point.”
Montgomery also pointed out a test is just a test, and that many schools teach to the whole student.
“Just because a student doesn’t do well on a test doesn’t mean they won’t do well in life,” she said.
Craven said that he would like to work more closely with universities to see what they look for in college applicants.
“Colleges aren’t just looking at ACT or SAT scores,” he said.
Admissions offices also are looking at the courses a student takes, grade-point average and community involvement.
“They’re looking for well-rounded kids,” Craven said.