- Associated Press - Friday, October 31, 2014

CHICAGO (AP) - The yearly report card on Illinois schools released Friday contains a host of new features and benchmarks, including one showing more than 70 percent of recent graduates enrolled in college even though fewer than half of ACT test takers were deemed ready for college coursework.

Other new assessment criteria in the state board of education’s report for 2013-2014 included the number of high school freshmen on track to graduate (87.4 percent) as well as rates of teacher retention (about 86 percent) and principal turnover at each school (a statewide average of about two within the past six years). Standardized test results came in about the same as the previous year, with 58.7 percent of students in grades 3-8 passing the Illinois Standards Achievement Test under the tougher grading scale adopted in the 2012-2013 school year.

Illinois is in the midst of overhauling its standardized testing and school assessments. Schools chief Christopher Koch says that is giving parents a more accurate picture in sizing up schools. And it’s offering administrators and teachers better tools for finding and fixing problems, such as the disconnect between the number of students entering college and the number (about 46 percent) who are considered ready for it based on an ACT score of 21 or higher.

“Many students do start college and do not finish,” Superintendent Koch said in a conference call with reporters before the report’s release.

In forging on with its revamp, the board needed a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education allowing it to drop many requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. It received that in April.

“I think we probably were labeling too many schools as either being successful or failing in the past using fairly crude instruments,” Koch said, referring to the federal law’s school grading standard.

Moving away from labels, schools are now judged on multiple measures and ranked on a scale showing how much “growth” they’ve had in reading and math. And, starting in the spring, Illinois will replace its statewide exams with a more complex online test rooted in the Common Core standards it started to adopt several years ago. It gets away from multiple choice questions and asks students to apply knowledge in solving problems.

“You’re getting a more complete picture about our schools and their performance,” Koch said.

This year’s report also tracks demographic shifts and shows that for the first time more than half of Illinois’ 2 million students are low-income, presenting a particular challenge at a time when education budgets are stretched.

“There’s a lot of lines on our budget that serve needy students that have taken significant reductions, and we have not been able to get those back to 2009 levels,” Koch said. “So it remains a concern.”

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Online: https://www.illinoisreportcard.com/

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