Print Version: More Accurate Count Reduces IL Test Scores

Published December 5, 2011

Not only are Chicago students dropping out at a much higher rate than previously thought, their academic scores are lower and the achievement gap between races is widening, according to new federally mandated calculations for fall 2011.

Approximately 75 percent of Illinois high schools showed lower graduation rates in the 2011 school year compared to 2010 on the annually released state School Report Card, after the federal government mandated a new formula to track the progress of ninth graders over four years more accurately.

“Across the state you’ve seen graduation rates fall, dropout rates climb, and ACT scores fall,” said Collin Hitt, an Illinois Policy Institute analyst. “In Illinois no one is being visibly held accountable for that.”

Chicago graduation rates dropped about 20 percent based on data collected with the new method. Fully half of all African Americans in Chicago do not graduate high school. More than half of the city’s schools also showed significant drops in scores on the Prairie State Achievement Exam, the standardized test taken in the junior year. 

‘Data Tampering’
The new method more clearly defines the terms transfer, truant, and dropout. Schools may no longer “lose track” of a student who becomes chronically truant or drops out over the summer.

“You were seeing a combination of data tampering and data mismanagement,” Hitt said. “You could more or less fail to mark a student who’s chronically truant as a dropout—even though that student is not coming to school, you could keep him on the books.”

Under the new rules, any student that has not reregistered or enrolled at another school must be marked a dropout by their previous school.

Calls for More Improvements
Chicago charter schools have continued to achieve steady test score improvement even under the new accountability measures, Hitt noted. The more accurate measure is one step of many necessary to improve Illinois education, he said. 

“There are still problems with the method,” Hitt said. “[Chicago Public Schools] is finding a way to report a graduation rate in the 70s despite the fact that everybody knows that their graduation rate is in the 50s.”

Repeated formula changes create a shifting target for schools and can obscure measurements across time, said Joliet High School Principal John Randich.

“It is difficult, if not impossible, to compare one group with another because the rules change every year,” he said.


Image by John Steven Fernandez.