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updated: 10/29/2010 4:59 PM

Naperville Central raises achievement of students with disabilities

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  • Naperville Central High School special education teacher Natalie Billings works on reading Friday with her students.

      Naperville Central High School special education teacher Natalie Billings works on reading Friday with her students.
    Scott Sanders | Staff Photographer

  • Top reading, math scores

    Graphic: Top reading, math scores (click image to open)


In a time when high schools are struggling more than ever to meet the increased demands of No Child Left Behind, Naperville Central High School rallied its subgroups to make Adequate Yearly Progress for the first time in three years.

School and Naperville Unit District 203 officials credit several years worth of work focusing on the needs of the district's disabled students coming to fruition.

For high school students, adequate yearly progress is determined by scores on the Prairie State Achievement Examination, which includes the ACT, and is taken by juniors.

For a school to make adequate yearly progress, No Child Left Behind requires that the percentage of students in each subgroup students with a particular ethnic background, kids with limited English skills and kids with disabilities meet standards every year. For this round of tests, 77.5 percent of students in each group needed to meet standards for the district to be considered making adequate yearly progress. Last year, Central's students with disabilities came up short with 32.9 percent meeting reading standards and 29.4 percent meeting math standards.

Preliminary reports this year, however, show last year's junior class made enough gains in both areas to propel the school back into good standing and making AYP.

Assistant Superintendent of Student Services and Special Education Kitty Murphy said data from the most recent report cards is still being analyzed.

"We know we made AYP and that's always our target," Murphy said. "But we are also making sure our students are leaving our schools with the skills they need to go on the next level."

In 2005, Murphy said, the district adopted a new individualized learning strategy for working with disabled students that identifies strengths and weaknesses early on and monitors students' progress on a regular basis throughout their school career.

Some of the first students to be monitored are now in high school, and Murphy said the test results are indicating the expected progress.

"We build the curriculum with the help of the regular education departments and can modify them to the individual students," Central Special Education Coordinator Nancy Wiora said. "And that keeps things moving at the student's pace."

Tutorial programs, focused on skill development, rather than reteaching the class work, were also introduced to resource times and study halls.

Last year the school also changed the way tests are proctored to make them less intimidating.

"The students take the test in smaller groups and with case manager they have worked with since their freshman year," she said. "It makes for a more comfortable atmosphere and really proved to reduce the anxiety, and that makes a huge difference in this population."

While parents tend to be less interested in whether the district is making AYP, Murphy and Wiora said they are greatly interested in and seem to be pleased with the progress their individual students appear to be making.

"I think a lot of good has come out of NCLB and we need to be realistic with the expectations," Wiora said. "But it has taught us to be data driven and we're now basing decisions on scientific-based research and data."