Just 46 percent of 2015 graduates from Illinois public high schools who took entrance exams were ready for college, according to results on the latest report cards released Friday by state education officials.
The percent is based on the students who achieved a combined score in all four subjects of at least 21 on the ACT. Student performance on the ACT was part of the annual release of Illinois school report cards, which for the first time also includes data on the percentage of students who pass Algebra I by eighth grade.
The student population in Illinois public schools has become increasingly more diverse and poverty-stricken. More than 50 percent of Illinois’ students are black, Hispanic or members of other minorities, and many lack access to resources and support needed to perform well on the ACT, State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith said Friday. Fifty-four percent of students are low-income.
“We need to better organize resources to better support kids and families to be prepared for the future,” Smith said in a conference call with reporters. “We still have a long way to go.”
In Metro East districts, high schools in O’Fallon and Edwardsville had close to 70 percent of their students ready for college according to those metrics, with the average composite score around 23. In struggling, high-poverty districts such as East St. Louis, just 5 percent were deemed ready. In Cahokia, it was 7 percent. ACT scores in those districts averaged around 15.
Students in East St. Louis did not have classes for the month of October because of a teacher strike. Smith called it an “extraordinarily distressing time in the community.”
“The conditions there and what our kids need are really significant,” he said.
Illinois juniors used to take the ACT for free and during the school day as part of the Prairie State Achievement Exam. This year, Illinois’ budget standoff has resulted in uncertainty about whether the state will supply the funding. Without money for the test at school, some students might never realize college could be a reality, administrators say. This was the first year Missouri public schools gave the test to juniors during the school day.
Darcy Benway, superintendent of the O’Fallon high school district, said the ACT-for-all concept meant that some students who never dreamed of college took the exam and saw they had a score that could get them not only acceptance but scholarship money.
“Now, you are going to have some students who are going to self-choose not to take the test,” Benway said. “And they’ll never know where they could have gone and what they could have done.”
The latest report cards are missing results for districts and schools on the new Common Core-aligned exams that students took last spring through the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test.
The scores are taking additional time to produce as students’ work is reviewed to determine the performance level threshold scores, officials said. Missouri also experienced a delay with its new test results.
Illinois district and school-level results on the new exams will be available in November or early December.
Preliminary results for the state released in September show the vast majority of Illinois’s public school students are not passing new and tougher standardized exams aligned with the Common Core learning standards. Students in grades three to eight and some high school students took the PARCC test beginning in March 2015.
The new test replaced the Illinois Standards Achievement Test and the Prairie State Achievement Exam. The 2015 scores will be a new baseline for measuring student progress. Education officials say they cannot be compared with previous scores.