Just seven months after receiving praise from the state and a national college organization for boosting academic rigor, four Lake County school districts are labeled failures.
That's not unusual, as the gap between student achievement and federally mandated standards continues to grow. It's one of the striking findings in this year's state report cards, released today, which show more local schools than ever with a smaller percentage of students meeting the standards that get tougher with each passing year.
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Nowhere is that dichotomy more pronounced than in Grayslake High School District 127, Warren Township High School District 121 in Gurnee, Wauconda Unit District 118 and Antioch-Lake Villa Area High School District 117.
Those districts in March were lauded by the Illinois State Board of Education and College Board, a nonprofit organization that oversees the SAT exam, for boosting student access to Advanced Placement exams by 4 percent to 11 percent from 2008 through 2010.
But no one would know about the praise by looking at the 2011 state report cards, which show the four districts didn't meet adequate yearly progress standards established under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Such irony wasn't lost on District 117 Co-Superintendent Jim McKay, who contends schools should be judged by long-term progress and not a report card snapshot based on standardized testing results. He said the Advanced Placement progress came from years of work.
"Those are (indications) of growth," McKay said. "In order to be identified in that group of schools, over three years you had to demonstrate an increase in your AP enrollment and student achievement."
Under No Child Left Behind, 85 percent of students -- up from 77.5 percent last year -- needed to meet or exceed testing standards for a district to be considered passing and making annual yearly progress on the 2011 report card.
Students with special needs or who don't speak English as a primary language must take the same standardized test as other children. Low scores from those groups often are cited for leading a district into the failing category.
McKay said the failing status on the 2011 report card resulted from special-needs and minority students not hitting the 85 percent mark for meeting or exceeding standards in areas such as reading and mathematics at District 117's two high schools, Antioch and Lakes. He said an effort continues to improve programs for those pupils.
"That's the good thing about the school report card," McKay said.
District 121 board member Jeanette Thommes said she doesn't believe parents there put much stock in the failing status for Warren High because they know their children receive a good education.
"We're doing everything we can to meet individuals' needs," Thommes said.
Also belying the failure label placed on the schools, Warren, Lakes, Grayslake Central and Grayslake North are on this year's Washington Post list of the top high schools in the U.S. The publication judged 27,000 high schools, with 1,910 making the cut, in part because of the AP gains.
At District 118, Superintendent Daniel Coles said achievement is trending upward even if it's not reflected in the report card.
In addition to the increasing Advanced Placement participation and academic rigor, Coles said, Wauconda High School notched a best 21.6 composite score on the ACT this year, a percentage point above the state average.
District 127's director of curriculum and instruction, Rita Fischer, said while officials aren't pleased Grayslake's two high schools didn't make adequate yearly progress on the report card, they have striven to meet student needs and intervene with appropriate support when needed.
"Measures of our academic progress indicate that we continue to prepare students well for their postsecondary education and career choices," Fischer said.