Sunday, November 8, 2009

Reclassification of juniors to avoid taking the PSAE

Rich East High School in Chicago has seen state test scores for its 11th-graders improve by a stunning 37 percent during the last two years - a gain so impressive that regional education officials asked the Park Forest school to host a seminar to help others emulate its success.

There's only one problem: Rich East did not give the Prairie State Achievement Exam to about 40 percent of its juniors last school year. And it excluded the ones furthest behind academically.

It's not the only school to keep the most underachieving students off the books, according to a Tribune analysis of new state Report Card test data.

School districts statewide are using a loophole that allows them to define what constitutes a "junior." By ratcheting up the credit hour requirements, schools are disqualifying thousands of third-year high school students from taking the 11th-grade exam that is the primary tool to hold the schools accountable for student achievement.

Many then take the test as seniors, but their scores are not used for state and federal No Child Left Behind accountability purposes. In fact, the state does not even track how well seniors perform on the test.

School officials say that giving students more time in class better prepares them for the exam.

A Tribune analysis found that 20 percent of Illinois sophomores didn't officially advance to junior-level status last year and, therefore, never took the exam.
Officials with the Illinois State Board of Education have known for years that schools were reclassifying juniors. But the practice became so pervasive last year, state officials said they launched an investigation. They will not provide any details of what they uncovered, saying they will present their findings to the state testing review committee this month.

"This is not an appropriate way to engage in the accountability system," said Joyce Zurkowski, who oversees student assessment for the Illinois State Board of Education. "This is an accountability test, and it's the gauge of how ready students are. By keeping out the kids who are most at risk, you are not being held accountable."

It's impossible to know exactly how many third-year high school students skipped the PSAE last school year because they were not counted as juniors.
But a Tribune analysis shows there were about 167,000 sophomores in 2007-08. By last school year - when this class moved into its junior year - only about 133,000 took the exam, according to the state data.

So 34,000 students - about 20 percent of the original sophomore class - either dropped out, transferred out of state or, most likely, simply were not counted as juniors.

In many cases, the missing students then reappear on state enrollment data as seniors come to their fourth year, according to state data. So, in effect, they were never classified as juniors on state enrollment data.

Traditionally, Illinois high schools have determined what class a student is in based on years in school. In the last five years, however, many districts began basing it on credit hours completed.
More recently, districts ratcheted up the requirements by insisting that students complete specific courses in math, English, social studies and science before they advance. As a result, thousands of students have not advanced as juniors.

How widespread is the practice? In 130 of the state's 660 high schools, at least a quarter of students dropped off the radar between sophomore year and junior test-taking time, according to a Tribune analysis of 2009 test score data.

Tom Truesdale, associate superintendent of Thornton School District 205 in the south suburbs, defended the district's decision to reclassify students. "I don't see this as gaming the system," he said. "We want to make sure students are adequately prepared. The credit hour requirements are used so students can adequately matriculate through the system and be ready to meet graduation requirements."
Read entire article here.

16 comments:

Sharon Crews said...

I assume you have noticed some area high schools have recently made the decision to reclassify students. District 150 made that decision quite some time ago--I believe, before NCLB.

Mahkno said...

Whatever happened to... if you don't make the grade, you don't advance? So, only those who could possibly have a chance of passing the friggin test would ever make it to the Junior level. It would seem that social promotion would be the bane of NCLB. You don't know the material, you are held back until you do.

Frustrated said...

I am with Manhkno on this one. The College Board that administers the PSAT states that there are 4 math categories covered on this exam:
 Numbers and Operation
 Algebra and Functions (but not 3rd year level math that may appear on the new SAT)
 Geometry and Measurement
 Data Analysis, Statistics and Probability

If a student has not taken the prerequisite math classes to prepare for the PSAT, what is the point of taking the test? I do not understand how that at all measures the effectiveness of the school, if a student then performs poorly on a test.

Sharon Crews said...

The whole NCLB system doesn't measure the true effectiveness of the school. NCLB asks schools to teach to the basics only--so schools no longer enrich even the advanced students--all that matters is this test. Public education is being destroyed. Testing only knowledge that can be measured eliminates all the creative endeavors that are deemed unimportant by NCLB. Advanced students are asked to do only that which can be meaured.

JC said...

Sharon, we've agreed twice today! A new record for us, I think! :) Love your NCLB comments. You're absolutely correct...public school education is being tremendously affected, and not for the better!

Mahkno said...

Now... I haven't seen the tests given for this NCLB, but take what Frustrated lists above. All on that list is stuff that SHOULD be known by ANY Junior. You should not be a Junior if you are not at that level. What does this have to do with denying enriching material to more advanced students? That's a school choice and a misguided one at that. If you are spending all your time trying to teach to this test, my guess is that the ball got dropped long ago (grade school, junior high) and the high school is playing catch up.

Sharon Crews said...

JC--Amazing that we can agree--not really. Mahkno, it might be a school choice, but I believe most schools, not just 150, will be making the choice by 2014 when 100% of the students have to pass it to make AYP. Now we have everybody's attention. The real travesty is that all high school students now must take the ACT (that is the one, right?) test. Previously, only college-bound (the top) students took the test. I would venture to say that many educated adults wouldn't do well on that test. Illinois (and maybe Colorado) have chosen this difficult tests; other states have the common sense to choose an easier test. I don't think Frustrated could possibly be referring to the ACT portion of the test. And, of course, the most ridiculous facet of NCLB testing is that the scores are of absolutely no importance to the students themselves. They don't even try to do well on it because there are no repercussions for them personally. Only the school is punished.

Emerge Peoria said...

Exactly Mahkno.

That is why it is imperative that parents have their own benchmarks that they are discussing with teachers - benchmarks beyond learning to the test.

All parents aren't equipped to work on benchmarks, or kicking in with the home schooling. However, parents can learn to set benchmarks for their children. The school district must make it their business to teach parents how to help their student. Not just because Title 1 requires it, but because our children will continue to fail if we don’t bring parents along.

Anonymous said...

FYI, by visiting the Illinois State Board of Education website one can examine the state standards for any given grade level and subject matter.

Emerge Peoria said...

Anonymous, I actually use this as a basis for setting my child's benchmarks and working with the teacher to make sure she is getting at least what the standard requires.

Sharon Crews said...

There are so many online sources--I know when I started teaching reading skills to a 4-year-old (new for me), I located so much helpful info from the internet. I think the "benchmark" situation becomes much more difficult for middle and high school. Once the basics are covered, the skills become so complex that it is difficult to isolate specific skills. Learning to read, for instance, requires a whole group of skills that can't be isolated easily. I've asked before (because benchmarks came in after I left) as anyone ever seen benchmarks for high school courses?

Mahkno said...

"The real travesty is that all high school students now must take the ACT (that is the one, right?) test."

This is a travesty? Need an 'easier' test? WTF? I am like.. WOW. Seriously? Is this a view shared by many high school teachers? Maybe we are getting to the root of part of the problem.

Maybe schools need to consider the scores on these tests as a condition for advancement and graduation.

I've told my son, that in some ways, those standardized tests they take every year is a more meaningful indicator of his progress than his grades. Watching those and following the coursework he was required to do, you could tell which years were largely ineffectual.

Sharon Crews said...

Mahkno: I have only seen sample ACT tests--but it is true that before the NCLB Act, only the college-bound students took the test. In fact, when athletes were forced to take the test to get college scholarships, they often went away to take the test in another location so that the home school's record wouldn't be tarnished. I remember that once the Illinois Report Card read that 100% of Manual students passed the test--only about 30 took it.
Are you actually acquainted with the test or are you speaking of standardized tests in general? When I said "choose an easier test," I, of course, meant for NCLB at the junior level only. It is my understanding that each state gets to choose its own test--and that Illinois and Colorado have chosen the most difficult. I believe that Steve Ptacek told me that they are the only two states that use the ACT. Perhaps someone more knowledgeable on the subject can shed some more light on it. You certainly jumped to a conclusion about teachers--so many seem to jump there. Please remember that special ed students, also, have to take these tests now--and it is definitely an impossibility for them to even read the test much less comprehend the material for which the test is written.

Sharon Crews said...

Mahknow, have you go online to view some sample ACT tests. The format alone is a bit formidable. Several years ago I analyzed the English portion of a sample test--I found that it tested very difficult sentence structure and puntuation rules (as an English teacher I knew the rules and had to think consciously of them in order to choose the correct answers). It definitely isn't as easy as choosing among "to," "too," and "two." The time constraints for each test and the length of the testing sessions are also factors that keep students from doing well on the test.

Frustrated said...

I am lost in this series of posts?

In my earlier post, I listed, as an example, the topics tested on the PSAT which is taken in October of 11th grade. If a student has not been taking a college prep program for math, that is Algebra I and II and Geometry and some Trig than a student will not do well on the exam. Same for the SAT and the ACT.

These are exams designed to be used by COLLEGES to determine student competency. SO . . if a student has been taking more remedial math than they are not going to do well on the PSAT. And there are plenty of students, not just in 150, that may never be able to be ready for Algebra II. Which is a fact the NCLB refuses to acknowledge.

So, my point was if a student has not taken the proper courses (because they are not or will never be at that level of learning),how is performance on ACT exams a measure of the school's effectiveness???

My children just took a new type of test called MAP and apparently that is just what it does -- it maps a student's progress over time. You take it on the computer and question difficulty is adjusted with each question based on your success at answering the previous question. The test was given at the beginning of the year and will be given again at the end to measure the student's progress over time. A state test, such as this MAP test, would be a much better way of looking at school effectiveness.

Sharon has shared there are students at Manual with 5th grade reading levels. What point is there in them taking a SAT exam that measures college readiness??? In such a student's case, moving from a 5th grade reading level to say an 8th grade reading level during the course of a year, should be considered a student/school success and this would be captured with a test such as the MAP test.

Sharon Crews said...

Frustrated: I was confused--I thought you were agreeing with Mahkno. Your last post is right on target--and what a waste of taxpayer money to give a test to so many students that have no prayer of passing it.