Nearly half of all Illinois public school students failed the annual 11th grade Prairie State Achievement Exam, the worst statewide performance recorded in the test's history.
Only 50.5 percent of Illinois students passed the exam this year, down from 53 percent in 2010, according to NBC Chicago. Schools say the results may have been impacted by the recent statewide closure of loopholes that had previously kept poor-performing juniors from taking the test, which excluded 8 percent of students last year according to the U.S. Department of Education.
Student scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests administered from third through eighth grade passed at a rate of 82 percent, the Chicago Tribune reports. Steve Cordogan, director of research and evaluation for Township High School District 214, told the Tribune that in addition to the inclusion of low-performing students expanding this gap, the tests themselves are vastly different: "basically, the ISAT is too easy and the PSAE is too hard." Half of his district's schools saw drops in their Prairie State passing rates.
Cordogan's complaints about the exam differences reflect changes in both tests in recent years. The ISAT score is up from 63 percent last year, Fox Chicago reports, but the elementary-level exam lowered the passing bar on the eighth-grade math test in 2006 and saw passing rates shoot up in the following years. Reading, math and science were the areas where high school students showed the poorest performance on the PSAE.
The exam results could have serious ramifications for many Illinois schools because they are one of the main criteria evaluated by No Child Left Behind, which in recent years has increased the percentage of students that need to pass exams for their schools to avoid sanctions, NBC reports. Federal standards this year required 85 percent of students to pass reading and math tests.
Superintendent Chris Koch told the Tribune that these results will likely produce a "major increase" in the number of schools and districts that will fail to meet adequate yearly progress. Individual local school results will be made public Oct. 31, the Tribune reports.