News

For Immediate Release
December 10, 2013

Illinois Learning Standards emphasize deep mastery of knowledge, critical thinking and real-world application


Organizations offer resources as schools implement learning standards in English Language Arts and Mathematics for K-12 students

SPRINGFIELD — Full implementation of the new Illinois Learning Standards is under way in schools across the state. From Chicago to Carbondale, Danville to Macomb, and everywhere in between, Illinois educators and students are working hard to meet the higher and more rigorous expectations of these new learning benchmarks.

“The new Illinois Learning Standards are meant to be challenging and rigorous as we all work together to better prepare students to compete and collaborate in a global economy,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “Under these standards, students will be required to demonstrate and apply a greater depth of knowledge, concept mastery and critical-thinking skills — all of which students must have for life and the work force, today and tomorrow.”

The Illinois Learning Standards for English Language Arts and Math, adopted in 2010 and based on the Common Core, establish clear, consistent and high expectations for what students should know in these two core subjects at each grade level, from kindergarten through grade 12, throughout Illinois, one of 45 states that has voluntarily adopted the standards.

Teachers and administrators at the local level are continuing to decide how best to teach their students and how to meet the unique needs of their classrooms but common state standards ensure that our students will meet the same expectations at each grade across the state and from one state to another. As families move for corporate or military jobs, for example, classroom expectations should not vary significantly.

The recently named Illinois Teacher of the Year, Pam Reilly, a second grade teacher in Sandwich Community Unit School District 430, conceded that she often found it difficult to teach to the previous Illinois Standards, adopted in 1997, but she said the new standards provide the clarity and depth necessary for her and her students to succeed.

“I am excited about the collaboration that I now have with teachers in our district as well as teachers across the nation because of our common language and goals through Common Core,” Reilly said. ”We will be able to have meaningful conversations about what is working and what isn’t, and share our ideas for teaching to the Common Core with each other.”

Because there are actually fewer standards, students may cover less material within a single grade, but delve deeper into the most important concepts. For younger students, covering less material will mean that they have a solid foundation in math and ELA before they move on to more advanced topics in middle and high school.

These standards are the result of a collaborative, state-led initiative to prepare students for college and career success. With its focus on critical thinking, analytical writing and real-world applications, students are engaging with material on a much deeper level than required under the state’s former learning standards.  Students are encouraged to explain how they arrived at the answer to math problems and reading comprehension questions, a challenge for even the brightest students.

Teachers note that the standards require students to answer questions drawing upon facts and evidence, and not just their personal experiences and opinions. It is important to remember, however, that the Common Core represents the baseline expectations for students to do well after high school graduation. Teachers still need to develop lessons that challenge gifted and talented students and schools need to continue to provide the necessary programs and staffing for faster-paced learners.

“These standards are poised to transform the entire landscape of P-20 education and align elementary, secondary and postsecondary schools so that these institutions work to support student success each step of the way,” President Douglas D. Baker of Northern Illinois University said. “Under the Illinois Learning Standards, students will enter college capable of doing the work so that we can help them advance to the next stepping stone of career.”

President Baker and other higher education officials and employers have indicated for some time high school graduates in Illinois and throughout the country need to be better prepared for college and the work force. Data from postsecondary institutions indicates that far too many students enter college needing to take remedial courses because of gaps in their knowledge. The Illinois Board of Higher Education (IBHE) reported that 12.2 percent of students enrolled in public universities, community colleges and independent institutions in Illinois required at least one remedial course during the 2010-11 school year.

Furthermore, research shows that students who enroll in remediation their first year of college are less likely to make it to the second year of college than their peers who do not require remediation. Other research shows that many Illinois high school graduates fail to earn the secondary education required to work in so-called “middle-skill jobs,” those jobs that typically require at least two years of college or training. These “middle-skill” jobs include police officers, firefighters, nurses, medical technicians, mechanics and electricians.

The Illinois Learning Standards are grounded in this research and other evidence pointing to the knowledge and skills that students need to succeed after high school.

The authors of the new standards studied the learning expectations of high achieving countries to ensure that American students are able to compete with students from across the globe. They used evidence from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science (TIMSS) study to inform the writing of the math standards and data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for the ELA standards. Parents have access to a wide range of support services from the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), the Illinois PTA and national PTA, and the non-profit education advocacy organization, Advance Illinois as well as the two state teacher associations, the Illinois Education Association and the Illinois Federation of Teachers.

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