Year-3 ISAT scores up; achievement gap continues

September 4, 2001
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Springfield - Illinois students posted higher scores in most areas on last spring's Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) but the "achievement gap" between white and minority students is still unacceptably wide.

State Superintendent of Education Glenn W. McGee today released the third-year ISAT statewide results. Scores from the first administration of the Prairie State Achievement Exam will follow on Thursday. School districts must release their local scores by October 31 as part of their school report cards.

"I am encouraged by this year's results," McGee said. "I believe we are truly seeing the Learning Standards have an effect in our classrooms," McGee said.  "But while progress of any kind is good, we're not progressing fast enough," he said.

The State Board will continue to give local schools the resources, guidance and support needed to give every student the kind of challenging educational opportunities that will prepare them for life after school, McGee said.

Now, the entire education community - educators, parents, students, community and business leaders and legislators -- must work together to ensure access to those opportunities, he said.

"These scores really start to give us a clear picture for the first time of our schools' strengths and weaknesses," McGee said. "We must as a community commit ourselves to giving our students every tool they need to become lifelong learners," he said.

Despite this relatively good news, McGee reported that the achievement gap between students from low-income backgrounds and their classmates, which is most clearly reflected in the performance differences between minority and white students, continues to be a major concern.

"Too many of our students are still not making adequate progress toward meeting the Standards," McGee said. 

For example, 64 percent of white, non-Hispanic eighth graders met or exceeded state mathematics learning standards. But only 19 percent of black students and 29 percent of Hispanic eighth grade students posted comparable scores.

"It is unfair and unacceptable that all of our students do not have the same educational opportunities and access to the resources and support they need," McGee said. "We must address the funding inequities to give all students the opportunity to meet the rigorous Illinois Learning Standards," he said.

Pointing out that this year's figures again include results from students with Individual Education Programs, McGee praised local schools for continuing to help all students achieve the Learning Standards.

Much of this year's data strongly suggests that the Learning Standards are beginning to take hold in classrooms.

McGee was particularly pleased that mathematics scores continued to rise at all three grades tested - third, fifth and eighth.

In third grade, 74 percent of those tested met or exceeded state mathematics standards, up from 69 percent in 2000 and 68 percent in 1999.

The same pattern held for fifth graders, of whom 61 percent met or exceeded math standards this year, compared to 57 percent last year and 56 percent in 1999. Half of all eighth graders met or exceeded math standards, up from 47 percent in 2000 and 43 percent two years ago. 

This year for the first time official statewide results were reported on "extended response" mathematics and reading questions that required multiple step problem solving skills to answer.

Students learning to think through complex mathematical problems - rather than simply using single-step solutions like addition or subtraction - may have helped raise this year's math scores, McGee said.

This is also the first year that at least half of all eighth graders met or exceeded state standards in all areas tested, McGee noted - 50 percent in math, 61 percent in writing, and 66 percent in reading.

Fourth and seventh graders posted mixed results on this year's science and social science tests. This was the second year those subjects were assessed.

Fourth-grade science scores improved slightly, with 66 percent of fourth graders meeting or exceeding state standards. That is up two percentage points over 2000. However, 72 percent of seventh graders met or exceeded science standards, the same as a year ago.

Students showed greater achievement in social science at both grade levels. Sixty-one percent of fourth graders met or exceeded state standards, up from 59 percent.  Seventh graders improved at the same pace, as 60 percent met or exceeded standards, compared to 58 percent in 2000.

Reading scores remained about the same, with about 62 percent of students across all grades meeting or exceeding the state reading standards.

In third grade, 62 percent of students met or exceeded reading standards, up a percentage point over last year. Fifth-grade progress held at 59 percent - although the percent of students exceeding standards jumped by five percentage points. And eighth grade scores dropped slightly with 66 percent of students meeting or exceeding, down from 72 percent last year.

However, statewide reading data supports the idea that strong readers are strong readers no matter the depth of the material. "That means that the best way to improve reading is to have kids read, read, read," McGee said.

Finally, writing scores held about the same. Fifty eight percent of third graders met or exceeded writing standards this year, up from 55 percent last year.

In fifth grade, 70 percent of students met or exceeded writing standards, down one percentage point from last year. Eighth grade writing scores dropped eight percentage points, as 62 percent of eighth graders met or exceeded standards this year versus 70 percent last year.

Though writing scores remained relatively steady, more than half of all students tested across the board showed strong ability to maintain a developed focus, support, and organization in their writing. This data again suggests that students are learning deeper-level writing skills.

McGee used the third-year ISAT scores as a platform to urge schools to continue aggressively adopting and implementing the Standards in all classes.


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