Illinois Schools are Closing the “Honesty Gap”

illinois_2015_graphUnder No Child Left Behind (NCLB), states were required to have annual assessments of students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. For Illinois, those assessments were the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) for the younger grades and the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE) for high school students. Because NCLB set specific percentages of students that must meet or exceed state standards and imposed severe consequences for failing to meet those targets, Illinois like many other states focused on setting standards and creating assessments that helped identify as many students as possible as meeting or exceeding standards.

Another assessment, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), is given annually to a statistically-significant fraction of students in grades 4, 8, and 12 in each state throughout the country. The NAEP is run by the US Department of Education, and the proficiency standards are aligned with international benchmarks. As a result, the NAEP results provide an independent assessment of how students are performing in each state.

Last year, Achieve released a report called Proficient vs. Prepared that compared the 2013-2014 results from the state assessments under NCLB and the results from NAEP in 4th and 8th grade reading and math. The results identified what was referred to as an “honesty gap,” the difference between the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards on state assessments and the percentage of students identified as proficient on the NAEP.

Georgia had the biggest gap in three of the four categories, a 60 percentage point difference in 4th grade reading, a 43 point gap in 4th grade math, a 65 point gap in 8th grade reading, and a 53 point gap in 8th grade math. For Illinois, the gap between the ISAT results and the NAEP were 23 percentage points for 4th grade reading, 25 points for 4th grade math, 20 points for 8th grade reading, and 24 points for 8th grade math. These results put Illinois in about the middle of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in terms of the honesty gap.

Last year, Illinois began using the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) in place of the ISAT/PSAE. PARCC was aligned with the New Illinois Learning Standards, which set higher expectations on what our students need to learn throughout their school years. With the results of PARCC now available, Achieve has compared the 2014-2015 PARCC (and the assessments used by other states) with the 2014-2015 NAEP results for 4th grade reading and 8th grade math in a new report.

Achieve identified Illinois as a 2015 Top Truth Teller for generally eliminating the discrepancies between the state assessment and the NAEP. In fact, Illinois was noted as having its 8th grade math proficiency benchmarks as more rigorous that those of NAEP, which means that when students meet those benchmarks, they are fully prepared to handle high-school level math. The results also mean that Illinois parents can trust that when the PARCC results show that their student is meeting the standards, they are actually ready to go on to the next level, whether that is the next grade level, college, or a career.