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Test scores don't complete school puzzle

THE ISSUE: Local schools below state SAT average

OUR VIEW: Data can be useful, but is not all encompassing

There are more than 2 million students enrolled in public schools in Illinois. That’s about 15 percent of the people who live here.

So when the Illinois State Board of Education releases statewide statistics, they’re worth considering. That was true with the recent Illinois Report Card data showing composite average SAT scores for high school students.

The top SAT score is 1600. The statewide average is 1016. Of 15 schools in our readership area, only two exceeded that figure — Somonauk High School at 1026.5 and Paw Paw at 1024.5.

Three other high schools had four-digit averages: La Salle Peru, 1,005.1, Ottawa, 1004.9, and Seneca, 1004.4. On the low end was Leland, 935.9, Flanagan-Cornell, 931.9, and Streator, 929.

All 15 of the local schools hewed close enough to the statewide average to fall comfortably within the Illinois extremes. Some schools were in the low 740s, others in the high 1300s.

Is your head swimming yet? We haven’t even started listing the districts by their proportions of students who come from households meeting the statistical threshold to be classified as low-income.

These numbers are important to know, and well equipped administrators and school boards can use them to shape curriculum and the structure of an average school day. As investors in a educated public, the data matters to taxpaying property owners regardless of if they have students enrolled in those districts.

But ultimately, test scores — especially standardized tests — are only one piece of the puzzle of what it means to actually educate our young people and prepare them for success. And that’s not because this data represents only the first year every high school junior was required to take the SAT. There’s always some test, some attempt at gauging what our kids know and how well our schools teach them, and none of these exams will ever fully reflect what’s being taught and how well it’s being learned.

And so, when you see these numbers and charts, please don’t let them form your sole opinion of any one school. Those 2 million public school students in Illinois each have more than 170 days of learning per year. The few hours they spend on standardized tests represent a fraction of the actual development that takes place day over day, year over year.

As a taxpayer, these are your schools. Even if you’re not a parent, student or employee, there are ways to get involved. And being involved is the best way to see what really happens, how young lives are being formed, and how tests don’t tell the full story.

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