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Testing in Illinois: An Overview

A GreatSchools guide to standardized tests

By GreatSchools Staff

Although test results are only one measure of student achievement, they have become increasingly important in assessing student learning. In 2009-2010 Illinois used two standards-based tests-the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT, pronounced EYE-sat) and the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE)-to measure how well students are meeting the state's grade-level expectations.

The ISAT is given in grades 3 through 8 in reading and math, and in grades 4 and 7 in science. Schools also have the option to administer ISAT tests in physical development, health and fine arts.

The PSAE is administered to students in grade 11 in reading, math and science. The PSAE also includes an ACT assessment, which can be used for college admissions, and a WorkKeys portion that measures math and reading skills that employers believe are critical to job success.

How are the tests scored?

PSAE and ISAT results show the level of proficiency a student demonstrates in each of the subject areas tested. Students are rated at one of four levels: academic warning, below standards, meets standards and exceeds standards. The goal is for all students to score at or above the meets standards level.

Which results are included on GreatSchools profiles?

For each subject, the combined percentage of students scoring at and above the meets standard level is displayed.

GreatSchools also displays subgroup results to show how different groups of students are scoring in comparison to the overall student population in a given grade and subject. The subgroups are identified by the Illinois State Board of Education; if there are a small number of students in a particular group in a school, data is not reported for that group.

Why do the tests matter?

Illinois test results provide an indication of whether students are making progress toward mastery of state content standards. Although Illinois schools do not use test results alone to make decisions regarding grade-level promotion or retention, low scores may suggest the need for additional assistance. In addition, high school transcripts include PSAE scores and show which students earned Prairie State Achievement Awards for excellent performance on the test.

It is important to be aware of both your child's score on the assessments and the overall score for her school. If your child scores below the standards, contact her teacher to discuss getting additional assistance, and to find out how you can support your child's learning at home.

If the school's overall scores are low, ask what steps the school is taking to raise achievement levels for all students, and what you can do to help. Because Illinois test results help determine whether a given school will receive financial rewards or penalties from the state, your child may be eligible to receive federal and/or state money for tutoring or to transfer to another school.

A few parting words

Test results don't tell you everything about the quality of a particular school, although they can be an indicator of what's happening in the classroom. Always look at more than one measure when judging school performance and visit in person before making any final assessment.

Search for Illinois Schools.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

05/16/2011:
"What is the maximum score you can get on ISAT? "
01/4/2008:
"To the person who posted on 12/10: How would you supplement these 'sub-par' assmessments in evaluating a potential school for ones child. I have moderate to little experience in elementary ed. and assessment and so require some sort of guideline or third party measurement or advice."
12/10/2007:
"Do the ISAT or PSAE report that your school is meeting the Illinois Learning Standards? The next follow-up question to that should be, is your school content to meet the low, low achievement level expected by those standards? Here's how the Fordham Foundation grades the Illinois standards: ENGLISH: 'B'. 'Without standards pointing to key authors, texts, literary periods, and literary traditions that serve to outline the substantive as well as formal content of the secondary school English curriculum, it is not possible for these standards to lead to uniformly high academic expectations for all Illinois students. Indeed, they are more likely to lead to inequities in the different ways in which teachers and assessors interpret them. Illinois needs to craft some content-rich and content-specific standards, drawn from classical, British, and American literature -- broadly conceived -- that outline the substantive content of the English curriculum from grade 7 to grade 12.' MATH: 'C' 'The standards, taken alone, are terse and frequently indefinite, as illustrated by the early elementary standard, 'Select and perform computational procedures to solve problems with whole numbers.'' 'In the lower grades, there are serious deficiencies in the treatment of arithmetic; for example, students are not expected to memorize the basic number facts.' '...there is no mention of the standard algorithms of arithmetic in either the Standards or the Performance Descriptors.' HISTORY: 'F' ('useless') 'The Illinois Learning Standards for Social Science attempt to present all of what should be taught and learned in history in six pages. Such economy of historical content should not be construed as pedagogical thrift but rather as an educational travesty. The lack of coherence and other matters of historical soundness are striking. To be sure, these standards are peppered with specific names, but none of it will be of any use to teachers, students, and parents who are seeking to determine what every child should know and be able to do in history.' WORLD HISTORY: 'D' 'The standards cover the entire political history of the world in half a page, much of it vague and unhelpful (e.g., 'Analyze world wide consequences of isolated political events, including the events triggering the Napoleonic Wars and World Wars I and II.') Worse, much of the actual political content of history is overlooked or treated superficially. ... 'These standards are by no means the worst of the worst, and in places they're good. But unless they're updated with significant amounts of historical detail, the standards will keep Illinois students in the dark about the broader world around them.' GEOGRAPHY: D Illinois' Geography Goal and four Learning Standards are ... not comprehensive. Of four geography standards, one relates specifically to history. Some concepts and topics are either missing or presented so nebulously as to leave evaluators scratching their heads as to what is wanted from students, e.g., 'describe how physical and human processes shape spatial patterns including erosion, agriculture, and settlement' (B. -- Late Elementary). Benchmarks, intended to bring specificity to the standards, are all over the map. They are strongest at the elementary level. But at higher levels, evaluators were often lost in their breadth, open-endedness, and/or lack of clarity. So confusingly are they presented that we were occasionally unable even to identify the knowledge or skill being addressed.' Bottom line: Don't be happy if your school is meeting the Illinois standards. Those standards are so low that the bar is almost on the ground. Your children deserve much better."
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