In just one year, Ames School in Riverside went from being the top-performing elementary school in Riverside District 96 to being at the bottom of the pack, according to results of the recently released 2014 Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT).

The results, released at last week’s meeting of the District 96 school board’s education committee, show that in the test taken last March, 74.5 percent of Ames third- through eighth-graders met or exceeded state standards in reading, the lowest performing mark among the four elementary schools in District 96.

In 2013, by contrast, 86.4 percent of third- through eighth-graders at Ames met or exceeded state standards in reading. That mark was the highest of any District 96 elementary school.

While some decline was expected in 2014 because the ISAT was for the first time aligned with the new Common Core State Standards (CCSS), the decline at Ames dwarfed the declines at other District 96 schools. 

While the meets-and-exceeds percentage in reading dropped 11.9 points at Ames it dropped only 4.9 points at Blythe Park going from 79.6 percent in 2013 to 74.7 in 2014, the next steepest decline in the district. 

At Central School the drop in reading was 2.4 points, from 82.8 in 2013 to 80.4 in 2014. At Hollywood School reading scores actually increased last year, jumping from 78.2 in 2013 to 79.4 in 2014.

At L.J. Hauser Junior High School reading scores registered a slight drop, with 78.1 percent of students meeting and exceeding standards in 2014 compared to 79.9 percent doing so in 2013. 

Math scores at Hauser fell by about 1 percentage point with 72.8 percent meeting and exceeding standards in 2014 compared to 73.9 in 2013. 

Ames also had the steepest fall in the district in math, dropping from 89 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards in 2013 to 81.5 percent meeting or exceeding standards in 2014. 

Every other elementary school in District 96 saw the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards in math rise in 2014. 

At Blythe Park School the percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards in math rose from 76.8 percent in 2013 to 81.3 in 2014. At Central School the percentage of students meeting the math standards rose from 82.8 in 2013 to 83.6 percent in 2014. And at Hollywood School math scores jumped, with 90.5 of students exceeding the standards in 2014 compared to 81.8 percent in 2013.

District officials have been reluctant to say much about the decline in test scores at Ames, which saw a change of leadership in July 2013. At that time, Todd Gierman took over the reins of the school from Colleen Lieggi, who had resigned under pressure.

“The 2014 spring ISATs were given for the first time and were completely aligned to the CCSS,” said Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis in an email.  “Since this was the first time these assessments were given, we cannot accurately compare the results to those of ISATs in the past.

“This year, curriculum is aligned with CCSS and a new assessment with measure the progress of our students.  We do not believe that the drop in scores at Ames is a reflection of the principal.”

However after the education committee meeting last week Sharma-Lewis told the Landmark that such a steep drop in scores in one year such as occurred at Ames “just don’t happen.”

Gierman did not respond to phone calls or an email asking for him to comment about the ISAT results.

Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman for the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) said that 26 fewer students, or 15 percent, had their ISAT scores posted in 2013 compared to 2014.

“It is a small school and any small change in student population will result in significant differences in student performance,” Fergus said in an email.

It is not immediately clear why so many fewer students took the ISAT under Lieggi in 2013 compared to under Gierman in 2014.

Lieggi, who now is working as the director of instruction and grants at West Harvey/Dixmoor School District 147, did not return a call from the Landmark asking her to comment on the drop in ISAT scores at Ames after she departed.

Under Lieggi, Ames earned the ISBE’s Academic Excellence Award for posting meet and exceeds rates of more than 90 percent for three straight years. Lieggi was once reportedly described by former Superintendent Jonathan Lamberson as the most competitive person he had ever met.

School board President Mary Rose Mangia also was not anxious to discuss what might have happened at Ames in the past. She was asked by the Landmark what might have led to the steep drop in scores at Ames in the very first year after Lieggi had left. 

“All interesting questions; questions without answers,” Mangia said. “But they’re not going to be pursued, so I don’t what the value would be of reporting much on that, because nobody’s going to look into it.

“Whatever happened two years ago, or the year before that, or the year before that, they’re going to have do something different this year and next year. We want them to raise the scores of all schools, all five of them. Whatever happened at Ames two years ago probably won’t help us do that.”

Mangia noted that since the entire district administration is new and Lieggi is no longer working in District 96, it may serve no purpose to look deeper into what happened in previous years.

“If she was certainly still here we would have to look into it,” Mangia said.

School board Vice President Rachel Marrello said that she also noticed the steep drop in scores at Ames and said that she is in favor of looking into it.

“I noticed that too,” Marrello said in an email. “I’m not sure why, but it definably warrants further review.”

However, board member Art Perry said that he wasn’t drawing any conclusions based on last year’s ISATs, because the test had been changed, passing scores had been raised and last year was the final year that the ISAT will be given in Illinois.

“I am very reluctant to really draw conclusions from this test,” Perry said. “It’s very difficult to compare. I find it very difficult to figure out what kind of conclusions to draw, because everything’s so much in flux right now.”

ISAT results a mixed bag in D94, D95

In March, the state of Illinois administered the Illinois Scholastic Achievement Test (ISAT) for the last time as the state transitions to a new test in 2015. Last year's ISAT scores were mostly unremarkable in Brookfield LaGrange Elementary District 95 and Komarek School District 94.

One highlight at Brook Park School was last year's fourth-grade class, which increased their scores in math by 9.7 percent compared to how they did the previous year as third-graders. The fourth-graders' reading scores increased by 2.9 percent compared to how they performed as third-graders.

"We're very happy with our results at Brook Park," said Principal Mike Sorensen.

The fifth-graders' scores at Brook Park went up 7 percent in math, but declined 1.3 percent in reading compared to their scores last year.

At Brook Park, 68.5 percent of third-graders met or exceeded state standards in reading, with 25.2 percent exceeding standards and 43.3 meeting the state standard. Thirty percent of Brook Park third-graders scored below state standards while 1.6 percent scored in the lowest category, academic warning.

Meanwhile, 75.9 percent of white third-graders at Brook Park met or exceeded the state standard in reading, while 58.8 percent of Hispanic third-graders did. And 56 percent of low-income third graders at Brook Park met or exceeded the state standard in reading.

At S.E. Gross Middle School, 73.1 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded state standards in reading, but Gross School eighth-graders had more trouble in math, with 59.3 percent meeting or exceeding the state standards, just below the state average of 59.9 percent.

At Komarek School, 77 percent of eighth-graders met or exceeded the state standards in reading, while 73.8 percent did so in math. Weak spots at Komarek in 2014 included fifth-grade math, where only 45.3 percent of students met or exceeded state standards and sixth-grade reading, where 56.7 percent of students met or exceeded state standards.

"There was one class that was kind of down, but for most part the rest of the group did pretty well," said District 94 Superintendent Neil Pellicci.

—Bob Skolnik