2013 Academic Results. A Year of Changes and Confusion.


With the all the changes to how Illinois reports academic performance, understanding what this year’s numbers represent is challenging. The following is a detailed explanation of the changes, D203’s scores, and what is coming in the future. It is wise to keep in mind that test results are subjective, in and of themselves, and interpretations of test scores are even more so.


 ISAT: For the 2012-2013 school year, Illinois increased the “cut scores” for the test, meaning that a student will have to answer more questions correctly in order to be considered meeting or exceeding standards. This change helps align the ISAT test to the PSAE. For years there has been a disconnect between the two tests, with students routinely scoring better on the ISAT than the PSAE. In addition, 20% of this year’s questions were aligned with the new Common Core Standards. You can read a more detailed explanation of the changes here.

For 2013, District 203’s composite ISAT score is 80.2 vs. 92.8 last year. The score represents the percentage of students that correctly answered enough questions to be considered to have met or exceeded standards. Statewide, Illinois’ composite score is 58.8, down from 82.2 last year. The ISAT will be replaced by the Common Core State Standards aligned PARCC assessment (see below) in the 2014-2015 school year and will be given at least twice in the school year. Five District 203 elementary schools will be field testing the PARCC tests for evaluation purposes this spring. This Tribune article discusses Illinois' field testing effort.


ACT: Illinois is one of 9 states that requires all high school juniors to take the ACT test, which in Illinois is part of the state’s PSAE (Prairie State Achievement Exam). This year's composite score for District 203 is 24.8 and is based on including, for the first time, the scores of students with disabilities who are allowed additional time to complete the test. Interestingly, at 10%, Illinois had the largest percentage of students who were allowed extra time. Nationally, 4% were allowed extra time. If you exclude this group, D203’s composite score increased slightly from 25.3 to 25.4.

Taking a quick look at the scores, it looks like District 203’s composite ACT is the 8th highest for school districts in Illinois and, once again, there is not another district in Illinois whose students achieve an equal or higher ACT score without that district spending significantly more money than District 203.


PSAE: District 203’s composite score was 81.1, compared to 77.6 in the 2011-2012 school year. Illinois’ score is 53, an increase from 51 in 2012. As with the ISAT, the PSAE will be discontinued in the 2014-2015 school year as the PARCC assessments are instituted. This leaves open the question of whether Illinois will continue to require students to take the ACT. 


College Readiness: The Illinois Report Card no longer lists ACT scores as it had in the past. Instead, it calculates a college readiness score based on ACT scores in the four subject areas: reading, math, English and science. Importantly, Illinois has chosen to calculate it differently from ACT’s methodology for their own college readiness score. ACT believes a student needs to achieve a 22 in reading and math, an 18 in English and a 23 in science to be considered “college ready”, meaning there is a 50% probability of a student receiving a “B”, or a 75% chance of receiving a “C” in the corresponding freshman class, if they meet these benchmarks.

Illinois has, instead, decided to use the lower standard of a composite score of 21, meaning that all a student has to do is average a 21 across the four subjects to be, in Illinois’ eyes, college ready. District 203's Illinois college readiness score is 79%  meaning 79% of District 203 students met the benchmark. For all Illinois students, the percentage is 46%. Using ACT’s higher benchmarks, 53% of District 203’s meet the benchmark in all four subjects, with the following breakdown by subject: 75% reading, 70% math, 86% English and 58% science. As you can see, it’s largely the science score that pulls down the average.

Since its inception, the ACT college readiness calculation has been controversial for a number of reasons. ACT continues to refine their methodology, and for 2013, they lowered the science benchmark from 24 to 23, and increased the benchmark reading score from 21 to 22. While lowering the benchmark science score will make it easier for more students to achieve it, the fact that ACT uses science majors taking freshman biology in college to create the benchmark, begs the question of whether this criterion sets the benchmark too high for students in non science majors and gives a inaccurate impression of what constitutes college readiness.

For parents and college-bound students who wonder if a student can be successful at college if they do not meet the ACT college readiness scores, indications are that they can. Many students score well in the three other benchmarks and yet go on to successful college careers, even though they failed to meet the science benchmark. ACT’s Issue Brief in 2005 indicated that 65% of college students who did not meet any of the benchmarks, returned to college for their sophomore year and meeting the science benchmark only increased like likelihood of returning by 3%. There is some evidence that a high school student’s class rank and GPA are more accurate predictors of success in a student's freshman year that meeting the ACT college readiness benchmarks.


The New Illinois State Report Card: Illinois has unveiled a more extensive and visually appealing report card that features a number of changes:

  1. The percentage of students achieving Illinois “College Readiness” benchmark replaces a school’s or district’s composite ACT score.
  2. There is a new “Student Academic Growth” measurement that “…compares students’ achievement from one year to the next to measure improvements over time.” The District 203 score is 109 in both reading and math, compared to Illinois’ 102 in reading and 101 in math.
  3. Throughout the report card there is a significant amount of additional information in click-able links: “explanation of display,” “context” and “resources.”

There are a number of additional new features coming in 2014:

Teacher retention: will show the percentage of teachers who return to this school to work each year. Teacher attendance, will show the percentage of teachers with fewer than 10 absences in a school year. Teacher proficiency, coming in 2015, will show the percentage of teachers rated proficient or excellent in teacher evaluations.

Freshman on Track: will measure the percentage of 9th graders who are “on track” for high school graduation based on credit completion freshman year.

High School Readiness: will measure the percentage of students who enter 9th grade prepared for high school.

Middle School Students Passing Algebra I: will show the percentage of students at a school who passed Algebra I by the end of 8th grade.

Illinois is piloting an anonymous statewide survey of learning conditions, the 5Essentials Survey, providing an opportunity for students in grades 6 through 12 and all teachers to share their perspectives on essential conditions for learning. Starting next year, results from the 2014 survey will appear on the report card in the following format:

Effective Leaders: Do principals and teachers implement a shared vision for success?
Collaborative Teachers: Do teachers collaborate to promote professional growth?
Supportive Environment: Is the school safe, demanding, and supportive?
Ambitious Instruction: Are classes challenging and engaging?
Involved Families: Does the entire staff build strong external relationships?

You can see District 203’s new report card here.

The new report card hasn’t meet with universal praise. Previously, the IIRC (Illinois Interactive Report Card) website offered historical data going back 10 years, an important resource. Others prefer the prior format offered by the ISBE (Illinois State Board of Education) that provided all the current year’s information in one document, which you scrolled down to read. In response to all the criticisms, the state has made the previous formats (with some of the new data included) available. To see what is being called the Classic IIRC with the historical data and the ability to compare schools and districts, click here for D203’s information. To see this year’s information from the ISBE website, click here.

The above extensively quoted from ISBE


PARCC Assessments: Designed to work with the Common Core State Standards and reflect a student’s progress in meeting the standards for English language arts (ELA)/literacy and math for grades 3–11, the PARCC assessments represent a major change in how testing is conducted. Just like the Common Core, the test will be looking for students to display critical thinking skills: “PARCC will give students a chance to solve real problems. Plus, they’ll not only have to solve complex problems, but show how they solved them.” PARCC is looking to create tests that are computer based and will require more than just “fill-in-the-bubble” answers. This would require some segments of the test to be graded by humans, although there is talk of creating an AI (artificial Intelligence) program as a substitute. There is some significant pushback on this model as the cost of converting to a computerized testing regime for all students is significant.  K-2 assessments are to follow shortly and are expected to be more of a "portfolio of work" according to District 203 officials.

If you are interested to see what the new style testing will look like, PARCC has released sample questions that you can access here. From PARCC: "This means teachers, students, parents and others will be able to engage with the sample items using computer-based tools such as drag-and-drop, multiple select, text highlighting, and an equation builder. PARCC also released online tutorials that demonstrate how students will navigate the test; how to use the computer-based tools; and features that make the test more accessible for all students, including those with disabilities and English learners."


The new tests also are being developed in response to the longstanding concerns of educators, parents and employers who want assessments that better measure students’ critical-thinking and problem-solving skills and their ability to communicate clearly:

  • They will provide more meaningful, actionable and timely information for educators, parents and students.

  • The PARCC assessment system will have several benefits not found in current assessment systems including benefits to students, who will have clear information about whether they are working at expected levels and are on track for postsecondary success; teachers, who will receive more timely and useful data to help inform instruction; parents, who will have clear and timely information about the progress their children are making; and states, which will have comparable results across PARCC member states and will be home to a youth population that is better prepared for success.

  • The PARCC assessments will replace state tests currently used to meet the requirements of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

PARCC believes a students’ cumulative score will reflect the following:

  • In ELA/literacy: whether students can read and comprehend a range of complex texts independently, whether students can write effectively when using and/or analyzing sources, and whether students can build and present knowledge through research and the comparison and synthesis of ideas.

  • In math, PARCC will report scores tied to whether students can solve grade-level/course-level problems with a focus on the content outlined in the PARCC Model Content Frameworks. Information also will be available about students’ ability to demonstrate fluency in key areas and to solve problems using mathematical practices, mathematical reasoning and modeling.




Diagnostic assessments in reading, writing and mathematics. These optional tests, available throughout the year, will help teachers identify students’ strengths and weaknesses.

Mid-year assessments in ELA/literacy and mathematics. Designed to be given mid-way through the year, these optional tests will help schools shape decisions about curriculum, instruction and professional development.

Performance-based assessments (PBA) in ELA/literacy and mathematics. All students will take this summative test toward the end of the school year to show what they know.
In ELA/literacy, this will involve analyzing literature and a narrative writing task. Students will read texts and write several pieces to demonstrate they can read and understand sufficiently complex texts independently; write effectively when using and analyzing sources; and build and communicate knowledge by integrating, comparing and synthesizing ideas. In math, students will be asked to solve problems involving the key knowledge and skills for their grade level (as identified by the CCSS), express mathematical reasoning and construct a mathematical argument, and apply concepts to solve model real-world problems.

End-of-year assessments in ELA/literacy and math. All students will take this at the end of the school year. The results will be combined with the performance-based assessments to produce a students summative assessment score. For the end-of-year assessment, students will demonstrate their acquired skills and knowledge by answering computer-based, machine-scorable questions.



For more information:


Coming Together to Raise Achievement


PARCC Frequently Asked Questions Sept 2013