Springfield Public Schools inched closer, but still has a ways to go to close the gap with other Illinois schools on state testing, newly released data shows.
Test scores from the PARCC exam taken by elementary and middle school students for the 2016-17 school year show 26.8 percent of Springfield students met or exceeded state standards in reading and math. That was up from 25.6 percent of students in the 2015-16 school year.
While Springfield improved, District 186 lags behind the state average by 7 percentage points.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, 34.1 percent of Illinois students met or exceeded standards in the 2016-17 school year. The state average climbed 0.7 percentage points from the previous year.
PARCC — The Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness of College and Career — is designed to measure how well students have mastered Common Core learning standards. The exam is considered longer and more interactive than previous state standardized tests, requiring students to show their work and explain their answers.
Last school year was the first year PARCC was administered only to grammar school students in Illinois after the state decided it would stop giving it to high schoolers in 2016, replacing it with the SAT.
Springfield Superintendent Jennifer Gill said Monday she viewed the new PARCC scores as a positive sign.
When comparing District 186 with the rest of the state and surrounding schools, Gill cautioned it’s important to know around 60 percent of District 186′s population is low income, compared to the state average of 42 percent.
“It’s statistically significant,” Gill said about the 1.2 percentage point growth. “We are actually closing the gap.”
Fourteen of Springfield’s 27 elementary and middle schools showed growth on PARCC.
Matheny-Withrow, Graham, Jane Addams, Laketown, Blackhawk, Fairview and Hazel Dell elementary schools all posted growth above 5 percentage points.
Graham Principal Steve Miller said one of the major keys to the improvement — Graham went from 17.9 percent to 29.1 percent of students who met or exceeded standards — can be contributed to building relationships with the students.
“We really focused on making sure students knew they had the ability,” Miller said. “I’m very pleased with our growth but by no means are we resting on our laurels.”
At Jane Addams, principal Mike Grossen said improving the scores was a major focus when he took over in 2016.
Only 11.2 percent of students met or exceeded standards in 2016, which didn’t match up with what he and teachers were seeing in the classroom.
Last year, he said, he talked with students about the importance of the exam, how it reflected on the school and challenged students to put their best effort forward. Jane Addams improved from 11.2 to 22.5 percent.
“The kids needed to know why it is important for them to do this,” Grossen said.