From Chicago Tribune by Diane Rado and Tara Malone:
About half of Illinois public high school students flunked state exams in reading, math and science this year, the worst performance in the history of the 11th-grade Prairie State Achievement Examination, statewide test results show.

The record-low results, scheduled to be released Thursday, come after Illinois closed loopholes that kept academically weak juniors from taking the exams, a practice revealed in a 2009 Tribune analysis. Some local school officials attributed their declines in part to the larger testing pool that included less-prepared students.

At the same time, grade schools posted the highest passing rate in a decade this year 82 percent across all Illinois Standards Achievement Tests given in third through eighth grades revealing a disconnect between elementary and high school performance that has not gone unnoticed by educators.

"Basically, the ISAT is too easy and the PSAE is too hard," said Steve Cordogan, director of research and evaluation for Township High School District 214, where half of schools saw drops in Prairie State passing rates. The two-day Prairie State examination includes the rigorous ACT college entrance test.

Passing state exams is important not only to gauge how well students are doing, but also to judge schools and districts under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Overall, 50.5 percent of students passed the high school-level Prairie State exams last spring, down from 53 percent in 2010, and 55.8-percent in 2001, when the PSAE was launched to capture the performance of teens nearing the end of their high school careers. In science, the passing rate dropped to 49.2 percent this year falling below 50 percent for the first time.

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