Many Incoming D219 Kids Not Ready for High School

More than 40 percent do not meet benchmark in math, more than 70 percent miss benchmark in science

About 40 percent Niles Township High School District 219’s class of 2016 will start high school behind, according to the results of the Explore test given to all eighth graders at the district’s sender schools last November.

That’s in line with the numbers of students who have been entering the district without meeting benchmarks for high-school readiness in recent years, said Anne Roloff, assistant superintendent if curriculum and instruction.

Roloff reported on the test results at a recent school board meeting.

Kids take a number of tests

The benchmarks are set by ACT, which produces a series of tests given by District 219. The series starts with the Explore test, given to incoming eighth-graders, and culminates with the ACT college entrance exam, which is given to all juniors as part of the Prairie State Achievement Exam.


ACT calculates its college entrance exam scores students need on its four subject exams – English, math, reading and science – to have at least a 50 percent chance of getting a B in freshman-level college courses in those subjects to determine college readiness. The company then works backwards to see what students need to get on the Explore test to make it likely that they will achieve college readiness scores, Roloff explained.

Only 60 to 79 percent of kids met benchmarks

Among next year’s freshman, 79 percent met the benchmark for English and 60 percent met the benchmark for reading.

Only 29 percent of incoming freshmen met the high-school readiness benchmark for science, but Roloff said she and other curriculum directors think ACT’s process for creating the science benchmark is flawed because it only looks at college freshmen who take biology – a group that includes mostly science majors.

44 percent not ready in math

Roloff said she was more concerned about students’ math scores, where 44 percent did not meet the benchmark for high school readiness.

District 219 Superintendent Nanciann Gatta said helping those students achieve college readiness – defined as a 22 or higher on the ACT college entrance exam – was the main reason the district eliminated basic-level math classes for freshmen this year.

Kids will still take higher-level math in high school

The district’s own records show that only 6 percent of the students in basic-level math classes as freshmen achieved college readiness by the end of the junior year. In fact, students who got Ds in regular algebra were more likely to make it to college readiness than students who got As in basic math, according to information provided by the math department directors at and .

Students who normally would have been enrolled in a lower-level course do get a second period of math to get extra support to make it easier for them to catch up, said Bob Williams, the math department director at Niles West.

A few more than 10 percent of those students failed the first semester, but about half of those have since received credit by demonstrating mastery of the necessary material, said Niles North math department director David Wartowski.

Gatta said she expects to see many more students make the college readiness benchmark when this year’s freshmen take the ACT in the spring of their junior year.

“That’s when we’ll see the payoff,” she said.

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grandpa April 26, 2012 at 01:10 PM
School levies account for the lion's share of your tax bill, yet the product, (educated students), is lacking. This story omits one crucial piece of information. Which grammar and/or junior high schools have the deficient programs that send students into high school with below grade level scores? Obviously, something is broken and needs to be addressed. Both our children and the taxpayers are being short-changed.
Glenn Posner April 26, 2012 at 03:17 PM
Hi "grandpa"....Hope all is well. I don't believe it's as simple as pointing a finger at one institution vs another. What's "broken" as you indicate, is the reinforcement at home by PARENTS. Teachers are not magicians. If the under achieving student has little or no discipline at home, little or no hands on supervision, monitoring or mentoring, this is the result. You could have the best schools, staff and teachers money could buy, but it starts AT HOME, not at school.
grandpa April 26, 2012 at 03:37 PM
Hello to you Glen... I agree that education begins at home. That is why I am a strong advocate of home schooling. However, if the institutions of education were doing their job, they would not promote students who are under achieving. I agree, teachers are not magicians, they are, however capable of ascertaining if a student has made suitable proficiency in the grade work. If the student has not performed they should be held back until they are capable of doing the work. Blaming parents for the school "kicking the can down the road" benefits neither the student nor the taxpayer.
Glenn Posner April 26, 2012 at 04:24 PM
I agree grandpa...Lots of additional issues here. Funding to an institution might be modified or withdrawn if failure numbers are high enough. As far as teachers are concerned, they are damned if they do and damned if they don't. If enough kids are held back or "recycled" due to failure (which at the core is what's happening at home) it does not bode well for that teacher's future at that school, financially or politically. If the teachers pass those kids forward, then we have what we have today, kids not being able to function satisfactorily. The "can kicking" begins with the parents. What kind of funding and support would schools get if they regularly failed 30 to 40% of each class? Our society rewards success, not failure. The nightmare begins at home. Dismissing or faulting teachers for failures at home helps no one. It used to be if a kid was held back or had to repeat a grade, it was painfully embarassing and quite rare. Today, everyone is looking for shortcuts and few seem to care about "stigma." With rare exception, it starts with parents, not teachers. Is it such a stretch to appreciate that teachers are given their "marching orders" from their superiors and the BOE? Teachers are gifts but too often are treated like pawns. Every once in awhile you'll get a nugget, an exceptional instructor, that can light a fire in a young person. But fires should be lit by parents, routinely, not demanded from our teachers.


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