The test score that got you into college may not meet Illinois’ idea of ‘college ready’



Students work on their math in instructor Tasia Fields fourth grade classroom at Carman-Buckner Elementary School Jan. 22, 2016 in Waukegan, Ill. (Jose M. Osorio/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

It’s possible that high school seniors in Illinois who were accepted into college based on their SAT scores will later hear from their state that they aren’t ready for college based on the same scores.

Illinois is using the SAT as its newest state assessment for high school students, who can use the test scores to apply for colleges. SAT exams were given to all juniors for the first time in April 2017.

The SAT says students are prepared for college if they meet certain benchmarks — minimum scores on the test’s two sections. But they need even higher scores to meet Illinois’ standard for college readiness.


There is a difference of 70 points between the benchmarks from SAT and Illinois. That has some local educators arguing that students are performing better than the state assessment results made public this week make it seem.

The highest SAT score a student can get is 1600.

SAT’s creator, The College Board, decided that students with a score of 530 out of 800 in the math section and 480 out of 800 in the reading and writing section — a total score of 1010 — are “college ready.”

What that means is The College Board estimates that they have a 75 percent chance of earning a passing grade in a college-level course.

The state, with the help of a panel of educators, decided a minimum score of 540 in both sections of the SAT means a student is ready for college.

The Illinois State Board of Education says those benchmarks are based on the state’s standards for what students should know to be ready for college or a career. The standards were designed to reduce the chance that students would need to take remedial courses in college, according to the state board.

For Belleville District 201, Superintendent Jeff Dosier said the difference in the benchmarks means about 20 percent of Belleville East and West high school students are left out of the state’s definition of college ready. That’s due in large part to the 60-point difference in the minimum scores required on the reading and writing section.


Nearby O’Fallon District 203 saw about 21 percent of O’Fallon Township High School students meet The College Board’s standards but not the state’s.

All of those students will receive one report from The College Board saying they are college ready and another from Illinois saying they aren’t.

“I think it sends a confusing message to students and their parents,” Dosier said.

The SAT dates back to 1926. Local educators argue that by now, The College Board has decades of data on student performance in college on which to base its benchmarks. They’re questioning the state’s decision to use a different standard.

“All that’s going to do is make schools look bad,” said Jim Rosborg, a retired Belleville District 118 superintendent. He currently works at McKendree University in Lebanon as the director of the master’s in education program.

When the SAT was redesigned in 2016, The College Board stated that it came up with new benchmarks by gathering student data from more than 200 two- and four-year institutions.

“So why would we have to reinvent the wheel? That’s my question,” Dosier said of Illinois’ benchmarks.

The Illinois State Board of Education has said that it was required by federal law to come up with performance levels based on the state’s standards.

So from Sept. 25-29, a panel of 49 educators helped Illinois set its benchmarks by making recommendations about what the minimum scores should be to show a student had mastered state standards in English language arts and math.

Three metro-east teachers were on the panel, including:

—  Melanie Davis, an English language arts teacher at East St. Louis Senior High School.

—  Laura Lauschke, a math teacher at Alton High School.

—  Carolyn Manning, a social studies, English and literature teacher at Lovejoy Technology Academy.

They weren’t able to comment on the standard-setting process because they signed a confidentiality agreement with The College Board.

Another issue educators raise with the new assessment for high school students is that not all of them want to go to college, but the state is using a college entrance exam to evaluate them.

Rosborg said Illinois’ decision to test all high school juniors will change the way its average SAT scores stack up against states where only students who plan to attend college are taking college entrance exams.

Students pursuing higher education are more likely to prepare for the test.

“It artificially deflates Illinois’ score compared to the rest of the states,” Rosborg said.

State Superintendent Tony Smith says Illinois will pay for high school freshmen and sophomores to take a PSAT, or practice for the SAT, for the first time this year to help them prepare for the assessment they’ll take as juniors.

The switch to SAT as an assessment in Illinois comes after it decided to drop the PARCC test for high school students after two years. Before PARCC, Illinois used the PSAE with ACT.

Students in third through eighth grade are still using the PARCC test. They now have three years of data on student performance that they can use to assess their progress toward meeting state standards.

One challenge for educators at the high school level is finding a way to put their students’ SAT scores into perspective.

“It would really be great if we could agree on an assessment and stick with it and have it over time, so our staff can use it to improve instruction,” Dosier said. “… We want consistency.”

Dosier said District 201’s plan is to use what he described as the “tried and true” benchmarks from The College Board to decide how educators might need to adjust instruction to help students moving forward.

Superintendent Darcy Benway said O’Fallon District 203 will compare the new SAT scores to O’Fallon students’ ACT scores by using conversion charts.

O’Fallon Township High School’s graduating class of 2017 was among the highest-scoring in the area on the ACT.

“Since we have been focusing on the ACT for the past several years, it would be most appropriate to compare our SAT performance with ACT performance,” Benway said.

Edwardsville District 7 officials think the best comparison is to look at other schools’ SAT scores and the statewide average to see how they stack up until they have several years of data on SAT.

Edwardsville High School students had the highest average SAT score in the four-county area at 1095 out of 1600.

About 55 percent of students there scored at or above the state’s benchmarks. Statewide, an average of just 38 percent of students scored at that level.

Edwardsville District 7 will continue to use the information from state assessments like SAT to revise the curriculum, according to Superintendent Lynda Andre.

Cathie Wright, the curriculum director for the district, helps teachers look through the specific results in math and English language arts to make those decisions.

Andre said the goal for District 7, like other districts, will be for all students’ scores to eventually meet Illinois’ benchmarks.

“We will continue to try moving every student into meeting state standards,” she said.


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