Illinois schools get low marks

Friday, September 7, 2001

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- In the second measure of Illinois student achievement released in three days, fewer than three in five high school juniors met the state's expectations for reading, writing and other essential skills.

But the "historic" new test provides information that will help students prepare for their lives after high school, officials said Thursday.

The percentage of 11th-graders meeting or exceeding state learning standards was less than 60 percent in all five subject areas tested by the first-ever Prairie State Achievement Exam.

"It's a tough test. We're disappointed in the results, but we're not going to make the test easier," state schools Superintendent Glenn "Max" McGee said at a news conference. "We have to have high expectations for each and every student."

It was the second time this week that officials had released disappointing results. The Illinois Standards Achievement test -- given for the third time at third, fourth, fifth, seventh and eighth grades -- showed improved math scores but little or no improvement in reading and writing at any level.

On the Prairie State exam, 59 percent of 113,000 juniors met or exceeded writing standards; 58 percent did in social science; 57 percent in reading; 54 percent in math; and 50 percent in science.

McGee pointed out that whites and students from more affluent families did far better than their minority and low-income counterparts. The same was true of the ISAT results released Tuesday.

Still, McGee and higher education officials called the Prairie State exam historic. It is the first test given to every student that includes the ACT college entrance exam, added to get students to take the test more seriously.

Keith Sanders, executive director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education, said the results will help students focus in their last year of high school. High achievers can take advanced-placement courses for college credit and poor performers can prepare for college or work.

Higher-learning institutions spend $100 million a year on refresher courses for incoming students, Sanders said.

About 10,000 students who had no plans to attend college scored 18 or better on the ACT portion of the test, making them eligible for college entrance, Sanders said.

McGee and Sanders said the results will help their agencies push a bill in the Legislature next spring requiring tougher curriculums in high schools. They are aiming for four years of English, instead of three; three years of math instead of two; and three years of both social science and science, instead of the one required now.

"What we used to call 'college prep' is really 'life prep,"' McGee said.

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