More than half of juniors meet standards
on first Prairie State Achievement Exam


September 6, 2001


Springfield - More than half of all students met or exceeded the Illinois Learning Standards for each of the five subjects tested by the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) this past spring.

The results are especially significant because they include the achievement of virtually all high school juniors, including students with disabilities and limited English proficient (LEP) students, said State Superintendent of Education Glenn W. McGee.

However, the PSAE results showed a wide achievement gap between students from low-income backgrounds and their classmates. Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) results, released on Tuesday, showed a similar gap.

"A majority of our high school juniors are meeting or exceeding the Learning Standards. That is great news," McGee said today.

"While we wish the scores were higher, I am pleased insofar as this was the first year of a very tough test. I am especially pleased that the Prairie State has opened the door to higher education and to employment and training opportunities that many students may never have considered otherwise," McGee said.

The first-year Prairie State results set the baseline for improvement for 11th graders and complete the picture of the progress Illinois students are making in meeting the Learning Standards, McGee said.

The test data should serve as a wake-up call to high schools - and the elementary and middle schools that send students to them - to more aggressively implement the rigorous Learning Standards, McGee said.

The PSAE, given for the first time this year, measures students' cumulative mastery of the Learning Standards.

It is a groundbreaking combination of state-developed assessments; the ACT, a nationally recognized college entrance exam; and two nationally recognized ACT WorkKeys tests of workplace-related math and reading skills that some have called the most rigorous state assessment in the country.

Some people questioned the state for requiring all students to take a test that includes the ACT, regardless of their future plans.

Whether they go to college or not, the bottom line is that all of our students need the skills and knowledge the Learning Standards encompass," McGee said. "These results begin to show what we have been saying all along: that every student, given the appropriate support and resources, can and will learn," he said.

That means all students should be expected and given the chance to take "core curriculum" courses, which better prepare them for life after high school, McGee said.

"The world has changed too much to expect yesterday's tools - or even today's - to still work tomorrow. What used to be called 'college prep' courses are now essential for basic 'life prep,'" he said.

The PSAE is specifically designed to yield information that will help students make important decisions about life after high school. The PSAE measures:
· Overall achievement of the Learning Standards, constituting Illinois citizens' expectations for student learning
· College readiness
· Workplace readiness

All 11th graders must take the Prairie State except those who are exempted by their Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or limited English proficiency. About 113,000 students took the test.

Students can retake the test this fall to improve their results. Students' best scores are noted on their transcripts. The State Board is sending letters to all students who took the Prairie State congratulating them for their achievement and encouraging those who did not meet standards to retake the test.

"We care very much about our students' futures, and since these results will be a part of their permanent record, we want them to have every opportunity to do their very best," McGee said.

Students will receive a Prairie State Achievement Award in each subject for which their score exceeds state standards. So students doing well on the PSAE can say - and show - that they have mastered the knowledge and skills vital for success in life after school.

So far, more than 27,000 students exceeded standards in at least one subject area, and 2,806 got awards in all five subject areas. These numbers may increase after students retake the test this fall.

The Prairie State also gives schools information they need to improve teaching and learning, and helps local and state leaders target resources most effectively to support and improve student achievement.

"As I said on Tuesday, the State Board will continue to give local schools the resources, support and guidance they need to help all of our students achieve to their highest potential," McGee said.

"Now local schools, educators and community leaders must work together, take those tools and use them to their best advantage, particularly with poor students," he said.

"It is intolerable to continue to let a huge segment of our population suffer the handicap of a mediocre education just because they weren't born to wealthier parents or better circumstances," he said.
"If we expect all of our students to meet the same Standards, we must give them access to the same educational opportunities and resources."

PSAE scores will be included on the school report card that all local school districts must publicly release and distribute to parents by October 31.

Overall, 57 percent of students met or exceeded state reading standards; 54 percent met or exceeded state mathematics standards; 59 percent met or exceeded state writing standards; 50 percent met or exceeded state science standards; and 58 percent met or exceeded state social science standards.

But low-income students did not fare as well as their classmates. For example, 60 percent of "not low income" students met or exceeded state math learning standards. But only 24 percent of "low income" students achieved at the same level. (The high school low-income count is based on the number of students who report receiving free and reduced-price lunch.)

Research has shown a strong correlation between low family income and race and ethnicity, particularly among African American and Hispanic students.

Using the same example, 19 percent of African American students met or exceeded the state mathematics Standards compared to 28 percent of Hispanic students, 63 percent of white students, 45 percent of American Indian students and 75 percent of Asian students.

Fourteen percent of students with IEPs met or exceeded learning standards, versus 59 percent of non-IEP students. Twenty percent of LEP students met or exceeded the state standards, compared to 55 percent of English proficient students.

For additional information about the PSAE, visit the State Board of Education web site at