For Immediate Release
January 24, 2013

Illinois State Board of Education raises ISAT performance levels

New cut scores raise expectations, better align with the more rigorous Common Core State Standards and pave the way for tougher assessments in 2014-15

SPRINGFIELD - The Illinois State Board of Education raised the performance levels of the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) for elementary and middle school students during Thursday’s Board meeting in Springfield. The new performance levels will align with the more rigorous Common Core State Standards in English Language Arts and Math and prepare for the higher expectations of a new assessment system set to debut in 2014-15.

“The Board today took a significant step in changing how we measure a student’s progress,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “The lower expectations of the previous performance levels did our students a disservice by not adequately assessing their ability to succeed after high school. The new, higher expectations will provide more accurate information about a child’s development and allow us to provide the appropriate supports and interventions earlier in a student’s academic career to ensure he or she is on track to enter college or career-training programs.”

The ISATs, used as part of the state and federal accountability system, assess students in math, reading and science each spring but have not proven to be a strong indicator of college and career readiness. Educators have observed a disconnect between the higher scores of the ISAT results, at 82 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards statewide last year, and the lower scores of the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) given to all 11th graders, at 51 percent statewide last year.

By raising the cut scores, the performance outcomes will better align with the more rigorous and robust standards of the Common Core being implemented in schools across the state and provide more accurate information about students’ progress toward success after high school graduation.

The higher expectations of the new ISAT cut scores will cause a downward shift in the number of students who meet or exceed standards. According to the 2012 ISAT results, 79 percent of all grade 3 through 8 students scored proficient in reading and 86 percent of students scored proficient in mathematics. When using the new performance levels to analyze the ISAT data collected in spring 2012, the percentage of students who meet and exceed standards drops to 60 percent for both reading and mathematics.  This drop is a result of raising expectations, not a reflection of student or teacher performance.

The ISAT data collected this spring will be analyzed for school and district accountability determinations using the new levels.

Performance expectations for the science assessments will remain the same until new science standards are finalized later in 2013. The performance levels of the PSAE, which includes the ACT, also will not change as that test already provides a good indicator of college and career readiness.

The new cut scores lay the groundwork for the state to replace the ISAT in Math and English Language Arts with assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of 23 states, including Illinois. The PARCC exam set to debut in the 2014-15 school year and aligned to the Common Core will include a computer-based assessment that will yield more timely results and will be given more than once during the school year. 

The effort to raise performance expectations is part of an educational reform agenda across the United States. New York, Michigan, Tennessee, Massachusetts and Kansas have recently changed their performance levels. Illinois is also among 45 states that have formally adopted the Common Core State Standards for college and career readiness.

The Illinois State Board of Education adopted the Common Core in 2010, replacing the Illinois Learning Standards that were developed in 1997. The Common Core standards are higher, fewer and deeper than the previous standards and establish year-by-year guidelines outlining the skills and content our students must master at each grade level to continue on the path to college or training programs to join the workforce. To learn more about the standards or read them, visit


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