Frosh no more

D218 abolishing traditional grade-classification system

By Laura Bollin

Community High School District 218 will change its grade-level classification system in response to the Illinois State Board of Education’s requirement that all third-year students, regardless of class, take the state’s standardized test.

The district, which includes Richards High School in Oak Lawn and Shepard High School in Palos Heights, will beginning next school year do away with the traditional freshman, sophomore, junior and senior titles in favor of first-year, second-year and so on. The move is being made because all third-year students will as of 2014 be required to take the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE). The results of the standardized test are used to determine school districts’ federal classification according with the No Child Left Behind Act as well as their amount of federal financial aid.

District 218 director of federal and state projects Anne Coffman stated in a memo to the board of education that the primary reason behind student reclassification is to ensure students are prepared for the PSAE.

Under existing ISBA rules, high school juniors are required to take the PSAE; however, a student who has failed to earn enough credits to be classified as a junior, despite being in his or her third year of high school, is not. Those third-year students who have yet to earn enough credits to qualify as juniors are still considered sophomores, and some high schools in Illinois have used the class title system to stop lower-performing students from taking the test, according to District 218 director of data assessment and evaluation Kathleen Gavin. The rationale of the practice is that preventing the lower-performing students from taking the test will enhance a district’s overall test scores, a determing factor in the federal government’s distribution of funds to public schools.

District 218’s state funding will also be affected by the new structure, Gavin said.

“ This will also impact the funding for federal courses, like career tech courses, training for students who are going for a career after graduation and not for college,” she explained. “If a student is taking a junior-level career tech class, but is classified as a sophomore, we don’t get funding.”

Gavin said the district has not yet lost any funding.

District 218 Superintendent John Byrne said the state uses different criteria than the district to determine which students must take the PSAE.

“ No matter what we do, in the third year, they have to test, because the state goes by age, not credits,” Byrne said. “Before, if they didn’t look like a junior based on credits, they didn’t test like a junior, but now, we have to test them.”