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updated: 10/31/2012 6:02 AM

Majority of DuPage districts fail to meet federal standards

Educators say No Child Left Behind standards virtually unattainable

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Eleven years after the creation of the No Child Left Behind education act, one type of story is becoming increasingly common.

It's not a success story. Not even in DuPage County, where 24 of 30 districts examined by the Daily Herald failed to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, according to this year's state school report cards.

In many "failing" districts, officials say AYP has risen to an almost unattainable level.

Eighty-five percent of students in each district, school and "subgroup" with 45 or more students must meet or exceed federal standards for adequate yearly progress to be met. The standard l ikely is going up from there, aiming for a 100 percent requirement by 2014 unless the state is granted an exemption.

"All districts in the state will fail to meet state targets at some point when the target is 100 percent," said Lori Bein, superintendent of Roselle Elementary District 12. "That (standard) goes against everything we know about kids who have special learning needs, kids who get different levels of learning experience outside of school. So we know that is flawed."

With so many districts failing, some are focusing on other measures of improvement and preparing for a change in testing policy.

"AYP really isn't our focus anymore," said James Stelter, superintendent of Bensenville Elementary District 2. "College and career readiness is."

Reasons for "failing"

The amount of students required to meet or exceed standards in math and reading remained steady at 85 percent in 2011 and 2012, but some districts that made AYP in the past, such as Medinah Elementary District 11 and Roselle Elementary District 12, still failed this year.

"The cutoff scores are moving up faster than the schools are improving the student learning," said Norm Durflinger, director of the Center for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University. "Almost every school district will not meet this requirement in the next two years."

Two factors knocked District 12 out of AYP contention: Roselle Middle School did not make AYP in reading for its economically disadvantaged students, and students with disabilities in the district did not make it in math.

"In 2008 we did strategic planning and we said, 'In 2012, we are likely to not make AYP,' and that is what happened," Bein said. "Making AYP or not is not always a good measurement of how kids are learning."

A few students in one or two subgroups can prevent an entire district from making the mark, as was the case in Bensenville Elementary District 2, spokeswoman Terry Ryan said.

"It's not like the schools are completely underperforming," Ryan said about Blackhawk Middle School, the now-closed Chippewa Elementary School, Tioga Elementary School and W.A. Johnson Elementary School, which did not make AYP in 2012.

Next steps

As District 2 reviews data about which schools failed to meet AYP, officials are homing in on another statistic: the achievement gap between Hispanic students, which make up 65.3 percent of the district's enrollment, and white students.

Stelter, the district's superintendent, said the gap between white and Hispanic reading scores has narrowed significantly in five years, starting at 23 percentage points in 2008 and closing to 11 percentage points in 2012. Now, 78 percent of Hispanic students meet or exceed federal standards in reading districtwide.

"What we're most excited about is the level we've been able to reduce the achievement gap," Ryan said.

The district also is changing its instruction to prepare students for a different standardized test to be given beginning in the 2014-15 school year. The new test will seek to gauge student growth more than attainment of a certain standard, Stelter said.

Superintendents say they have not yet been told how adequate yearly progress will be evaluated when the new test is implemented. So until direction is given, Roselle District 12's Bein said school officials will do what they can with state report card data.

"The important thing is for a school to look at the data and say 'What does it really mean to us in terms of how we can help our kids?'" she said. "It's usable at some levels and it's an important piece of the puzzle, but it's not the whole pie."

• Search our online database of school report card results at http://www.dailyherald.com/section/reportcards/

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