By Bob Skolnik
The average math score for the Class of 2018 at Riverside-Brookfield High School on the state-mandated exam the state uses to judge college readiness and student achievement fell short of what the state of Illinois considers proficient.
That's just one surprising piece of information from recently released school report cards issued for each public school the state by the Illinois State Board of Education.
Last spring, the state of Illinois mandated for the first time that all public high school juniors take the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) rather than the ACT, which had been required in the past.
Subjects on the SAT are scored on a 200- to 800-point scale, and the state Illinois State Board of Education set a score of 540 as the so-called "cut score," indicating proficiency in both math and English language arts.
RBHS juniors averaged 529.3 points in math on the SAT exam administered in the spring of 2017.
The school's administration has taken a number of steps to improve performance on the SAT. On Oct. 27, officials devoted an entire institute day to familiarize teachers with the test and teach them how to incorporate SAT-oriented skills and test preparation into their classes.
RBHS teachers themselves will take sections of the SAT in the areas that they teach, so that they have a better understanding of the test. Because a portion of the math part of the SAT must be done without a calculator, RBHS will increase the amount of class time devoted to working out math problems without a calculator.
The school will also redesign its for-credit test prep course around the SAT. There will also be a greater focus on identifying younger students who are not meeting benchmarks and on giving those students additional help.
"We continue to collaborate with our feeder districts to increase academic performance at all levels," said RBHS Principal Kristin Smetana in an email. "We are also currently evaluating our academic interventions to determine any necessary enhancements in order to meet the learning needs of the students who come to RB not meeting PSAT benchmarks."
However, many educators question the decision to make 540 the score indicating proficiency. They have noted that the College Board, which administers the SAT, says that a 530 score in math and a 480 score in English indicates that a student is ready for college work and would likely get at least a C in a college class.
"My only concern is what the state has chosen as the cut scores for proficiency," said Scott Eggerding, the director of curriculum and instruction at Lyons Township High School, which serves the south half of Brookfield. "It doesn't make a whole lot of sense that a student would be considered college ready for the SAT, but not by the state of Illinois."
RBHS students compiled an average score of 548.8 on the English portion of the SAT.
Meanwhile, juniors at Lyons Township High School last spring did somewhat better, scoring an average of 573 in math and 567.2 in English.
Both RBHS and LTHS students scored above the state averages of 504.4 in math and 511.5 in English.
The average combined score on the SAT was 1,078 for RBHS juniors and 1,140 for juniors LTHS in 2017, both well above the state average of 1,015.9.
Overall, according to the school report card, 64 percent of LTHS students are considered ready for the next level, while 53 percent of RBHS students are.
Since 2017 was the first year the SAT was the state-mandated test, school officials say it is hard to compare results to previous years.
"We just went into it and said 'Let's see what the first step brings and go from there,'" Eggerding said.
The revamped SAT test is not very different than the ACT, and LTHS has not made major changes in its curriculum or its instruction to respond to the new test other than changing its test preparation course, Eggerding said.
The school report card, in addition to reporting average test scores, showed that LTHS spends somewhat more per student than RBHS.
LTHS spends about $11,000 per student on instructional and $18,000 per student for operational expenses, while RBHS spends about $9,500 per student on instruction and about $15,000 per student on operational expenses.
In 2015-16, RBHS spent an abnormally high 16.7 percent of its budget on capital projects, a figure explained in large part because RBHS built a new football stadium that year.
In 2016-17, 5.6 percent of RBHS' total expenditures went toward capital projects; in 2017-18 the district projects spending 1.3 percent of its budget for capital improvements, according to Scott Beranek, the chief financial officer for District 208.
The demographics of the two schools also are somewhat different.
At RBHS, 55.5 percent of students are white, 34.2 percent are Hispanic and 5.7 percent are black. At LTHS, 73 percent are white, 19 percent are Hispanic, and 4 percent are black.
RBHS has more low-income students than LTHS. Twenty percent of RBHS students are classified as low-income by the state, while 14 percent of LTHS students are so classified.
RBHS also has slightly more students for whom English is not their first language, 3 percent versus 2 percent at LTHS.