Rauner Raises The Bar On Academic Standards

Feb 23, 2017

Gov. Bruce Rauner (left) pauses to talk to Roger Eddy, a member of the Illinois Balanced Assessment Measure Committee, after speaking to an education leadership group.
Credit Dusty Rhodes / NPR Illinois

Gov. Bruce Rauner has made elementary and secondary education a signature issue of his administration, and today, he met with the State Board of Education in an effort to nudge the state’s academic goals higher.


A federal law known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA, requires every state to make sure kids become proficient in core subjects, and continue to learn more each year. The law further requires states to come up with a yardstick to measure that success, but allows some flexibility on how heavily test scores will count. Other numbers like graduation rates and college readiness can be factored in.


The latest draft of Illinois’ plan calls for tests to count for 51 percent, and those softer goals 49 percent -- a ratio set by the 10-member Illinois Balanced Assessment Measure Committee, a panel of educators and school administrators.


Today, Rauner told the state board of education he wants to change the committee's specified ratio.

“I’d go to 80-20," he said. "I’d be perfectly happy at 90-10. I mean, you guys will debate and decide.”

To get every student up to grade level, Rauner said the state needs to pass an equitable school funding plan, and more than once, mentioned Massachusetts as a model.

“They particularly are trying to work on closing the achievement gap for minority students and low-income students," he said. "That’s a big deal. We should do likewise, in my opinion.”

Rauner isn’t the first to draw inspiration from the Bay State. The Illinois Senate has twice passed school funding reform legislation sponsored by Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), specifically modeled on Massachusetts. Those bills were never heard in the House.

Rauner also asked the board to continue revising its plan until the last possible deadline, which is in September. However, state superintendent Tony Smith indicated he hopes to stick to the board’s current plan, and submit it to the federal Department of Education on April 3, in order to have a plan in place before the school year starts.