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Impact of the New ISAT Cut Scores in District 205

Following months of discussion, on January 24, 2013, the Illinois State Board of Education voted to increase the cut scores used to determine if elementary and middle school students are meeting State Standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) that is administered annually in early March. A student’s score on the ISAT assessment is used to classify that student’s achievement level into one of four categories: academic warning, below standards, meets standards, or exceeds standards. As a result of this action, students will have to achieve a higher score to meet standards this spring than they did in the past.

The ISBE has posted the following explanation on its website (

The Illinois State Board of Education has raised the performance expectations for the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) as part of the ongoing effort to better prepare our students for college and careers in the 21st century.

Schools have begun implementing the Common Core State Standards, a multi-state initiative that established year-by-year guidelines outlining the grade-specific skills and content our students need to stay on the path to college and career readiness. Therefore, we must adjust the performance levels on the ISAT for Math and English Language Arts to better align with the more rigorous standards of the Common Core and give teachers and parents better, more timely information about a student’s progress toward postsecondary success.

The ISAT data collected for elementary and middle school students in Spring 2013 will be analyzed for school and district accountability determinations using the new performance levels. The higher expectations of the new standards will result in a downward shift of where students rank in meeting or exceeding standards. These new expectations do not mean that our students know less than they did before or are less capable than they were in previous years. Instead, ISBE is raising the bar on how well students are prepared to meet college and career readiness benchmarks.

The new expectations will also lay the groundwork for the state to replace the ISAT with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments during the 2014-2015 school year.

The collective results of ISAT scores in a school are used by the State to determine if a school is making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), as described in the federal legislation known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). As a result of these changes, all Illinois elementary and middle schools will see a decrease in the percentage of students in the "meets" and "exceeds" categories that are used to determine if a school is making AYP. Unless Illinois is granted a waiver from U.S. Department of Education (application currently pending) to implement its multiple-measures approach to determining AYP, the previous criteria will continue to apply. These conditions would require that 92.5% of students meet or exceed standards on the 2013 ISAT.

Information released by the State indicates that the new cut scores will cause the percentage of students classified as meeting or exceeding Illinois standards to drop by about 20 percentage points in reading and 25 percentage points in math. Analysis of past results in District 205 indicates that the impact may be less severe for our schools, but still quite significant. We are likely to see the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards drop by approximately 12 points in reading and 15 points in math. The result will be that most, if not all, of our elementary and middle schools will no longer meet AYP under these new criteria.

District 205 began planning and implementation of the Common Core State Standards when they were released in June of 2010. Since that time, significant curricular changes have been made in both reading and math. We are currently in transition, as we are still being held accountable for the previous Illinois standards through State testing, yet must prepare for the full implementation of the new standards in the 2014-2015 school year.


An Example – 5th Grade Math

The scales below show the old and new cut score ranges for 5th grade math.


We can begin to predict the impact of this change by applying the new cut scores to last year’s test results. The images below show the distribution of 5th grade math scores on last year’s ISAT and how these scores would be classified according to the old and new cut scores.



Both of these graphs represent the same students and the same scores. The change in cut scores causes some students to be classified differently. In this example, the percent of students that are in the “Meets and Exceeds” categories falls from 96%, using the old cut scores, to 83% using the new criteria. This is due to the fact that there are many students whose scores would have been given a classification of “Meets Standards” using the 2012 criteria, but will now be given a “Below Standards” classification.

More information may be found on the Illinois State Board of Education website: (

Posted by: Melea Smith, District Admin, Elmhurst Community Unit School District 205 Published:2/8/13
Audience: Learning & Teaching, Homepage, Homepage and Learning & Teaching