First the good news:

The Illinois State Board of Education released its annual school report card for the state’s school districts last week. And by and large, area schools performed at very high levels on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

In Riverside District 96, just over 93 percent of all students tested met or exceeded state standards in reading and math. In Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95, the percentage of those meeting or exceeding state standards was almost 92 percent.

Over at Komarek School District 94 in North Riverside, 86.7 percent met state standards – close to last year’s 87.5 percent, which was a record achievement for the district.

Congress Park School in Brookfield, part of LaGrange District 102, saw a record level of achievement, with 87.1 percent of students meeting state standards. Only at Lincoln School in Brookfield, which is part of Lyons District 103, did the percentage slip a bit.

This year 78.3 percent of students at Lincoln met or exceeded state standards. That’s its lowest level since 2007, when 78.8 percent met standards. The high-water mark was 80.9 percent in 2009.

Now the bad news:

No matter how well those school districts did on the 2012 ISAT test, which was given to students in third through eighth grades last March, it wasn’t good enough.

According to the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, every district was a failure.

The local districts have plenty of company. Last week the Illinois State Board of Education announced that 82 percent of state school districts did not make adequate yearly progress on the standardized test.

High school results were even worse, with just 11 high schools in the entire state meeting standards in reading and math.

The numbers highlight educators’ frustration with NCLB and its arbitrary method for judging whether schools are succeeding.

“It was unrealistic 10 years ago when it was set up, and this is the result of that plan,” said Mark Kuzniewski, superintendent of D95. “Schools are producing better results than they ever have, and they’re still failing.”

But there is change in the air. Illinois is one of several states seeking a waiver from NCLB, which uses a rigid formula for determining student achievement.

Instead, Illinois would like to implement a testing model that tracks student growth over time and not simply student performance on one day each year.

“We are truly in a transition period in education as we move away from the punitive and one-size-fits-all nature of No Child Left Behind and into a system that will provide more comprehensive and useful information to parents, educators and students themselves about each child’s progress over time,” said Christopher A. Koch, state superintendent of education, in a press release last week.

“We are hopeful that this is the last year we report on [adequate yearly progress] results and can instead offer data that paints a fuller picture of each student’s and school’s learning experience.”

By the 2014-15 school year the ISAT test itself will be history, replaced by a new assessment, based on national “common core” standards in English and math that are reportedly more rigorous than the ISAT exam.

The test itself still hasn’t been developed and local educators aren’t sure exactly what the final test will look like.

“The test is going to be entirely different, and the degree to which kids need to perform to meet [those standards] is a higher expectation than what it is now,” said Kuzniewski who is not convinced that the new common core assessment will end up being a growth model, though he said growth model assessments will be key in the future in any case.

Districts serving the Landmark’s coverage area have already turned to growth-model testing, via the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) testing. Such testing is typically done more than once per year and gives educators immediate feedback regarding where student achievement is falling short.

“It’s a much more valid test for feedback,” said Neil Pellicci, superintendent of D94, which started MAP testing this year. “It adjusts itself to the student and is a much more valid test for kids.”

According to Kuzniewski, MAP testing is the tool his district uses to identify students who need specific attention and to make sure they receive the services they need to improve in certain areas.

“We’re using that data to find out very specifically where a child is struggling,” said Kuzniewski. “Mostly the ISAT confirms what our MAP data is already telling us. What we hope the ISAT does is reaffirm that the decisions we made were the right decisions.”

Illinois Standards Achievement Test scores

Click on a district or school to see the test results.

Riverside District 96

Brookfield-LaGrange Park District 95

Komarek School District 94

LaGrange-Brookfield District 102 

Lyons-Brookfield District 103