More than a decade after it was created to carry out the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, the Illinois Standards Achievement Test will be phased out after 2014 and replaced with a different assessment adhering to the new Common Core standards.

But on its way out the door, the Illinois State Board of Education sent a love note to schools letting them know that all of that progress they were making during the last decade was a mirage.

In early 2013 the state board announced it was raising the ISAT cut scores to reflect the increased rigor that students will see when the Common Core is implemented. That caused pass rates on the ISAT to plummet statewide.

The question we are continually left with is, what is the point? What possible message are Illinois parents supposed to understand if everything they’ve been told about how their children are doing on state exams is arbitrarily changed?

One year your kid’s school is considered top tier with 90 percent of students meeting state standards. The next year, you’re told that the school is a failure, even though the students perform roughly the same on the exam.

The state board emphasizes how important these exams are to chart a school’s progress, to make sure they are complying with the requirement of the federal law to raise the achievement of all students. Schools follow the rules and then get the rug pulled out from under them. You’re passing. No, you’re failing.

It’s almost as if there’s a wish for schools to be seen as failures. Why?

In 2015, schools in Illinois will be using a new exam — one that hasn’t yet been developed — that follows the Common Core standards being widely adopted throughout the U.S.

Adopting Common Core means all states will be judging schools and students using the same criteria. Common Core reportedly is more rigorous and focuses on college readiness.

That’s all great, but we have a sinking suspicion that just like the current testing model, the Common Core exam and benchmarks will continue to change, leaving school districts confused about how to best prepare students for the exam.

In the past decade this focus on standardized test performance has also given that one-time snapshot far too much importance, and has resulted in focusing on testing at the expense of education.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear that this emphasis is likely to change anytime soon. We can only hope that the Common Core assessments focus on student growth and not just pick arbitrary numbers to determine the success or failure of a school.

That’s not fair to students, parents or schools. And it sells the concept of education short.

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