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Illinois Gets Honest and Raises Expectations for Students

• Patricia Levesque

IL #ProficiencyMatters


For years, students in Illinois public schools have been passing their state assessments in language arts and math under the false assumption that their high scores indicated they were on grade level in these critical subjects. Students and their families were being misled by tests that were too easy and passing scores that were set too low.

But that practice has come to an end.

Last week, the Illinois State Board of Education voted to approve the performance level threshold scores for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests Illinois students took last spring. The vote means Illinois leaders are ready to challenge students. By increasing the rigor of state assessments, Illinois can ensure children are able to demonstrate a thorough understanding of grade-level content and are on a path to graduate ready for college-level coursework.

In our country, each state sets its own academic requirements for reading and math, and its own passing scores on state assessments to determine if students truly are proficient in the subjects. In some states, test scores accurately reflect proficiency. In others they do not because passing scores are set too low.

Back in 2013, Illinois’ assessments indicated that the majority of students were on track academically in math and reading. For example, 59 percent of fourth-grade students scored proficient on their reading test. But test results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) – a more accurate measure of proficiency – revealed that only 34 percent of Illinois fourth graders were proficient readers in 2013.

This “proficiency gap” of 25 percentage points indicated Illinois was setting the bar far too low, giving parents and teachers an inflated, unrealistic view of students’ academic achievement. And this resulted in many students graduating from high school unprepared for the challenges of college, careers and the military.

Governor Bruce Rauner, State Superintendent of Education Tony Smith and Illinois leaders have put an end to this charade by adopting more rigorous tests and setting passing scores at a level that reflects true, in-depth knowledge of the subjects. Now Illinois’ proficiency expectations are aligned with student performance on the national PARCC test.

It will always be more difficult to ask more of students than to ask less. Even so, telling the truth about student learning and challenging all children to excel is crucial.

Illinois education officials have shown they are committed to the long-term success of their students and their state. And that starts with raising expectations and creating an education system where every child masters the knowledge and skills necessary to be successful.

Read the Illinois State Board of Education’s release of details on the scores for the PARCC assessment, and visit ExcelinEd’s website for more facts, graphics and sharable content. Join the conversation online with the hashtag #ProficiencyMatters.

Read more in the #Proficiency Matters series:

About the author

Patricia Levesque @levesquepat

Patricia is the Chief Executive Officer for the Foundation for Excellence in Education. She served as Governor Jeb Bush’s deputy chief of staff for education, enterprise solutions for government, minority procurement, and business and professional regulation. Previously, Patricia served six years in the Florida Legislature in the Speakers Office and as staff director over education policy. Contact Patricia at