Due to benchmarks many officials consider arbitrary and practically impossible to attain, Palatine Township Elementary District 15 must offer students at seven of its schools the option of transferring.
Up to 55 students will be allowed to attend Frank C. Whiteley in Hoffman Estates, the district's only school last year to make Adequate Yearly Progress, the cornerstone of the No Child Left Behind Act.
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Students from Jane Addams, Virginia Lake, Lake Louise, Lincoln, Kimball Hill, Central Road and Gray M. Sanborn elementary schools qualify because they meet two criteria: each school failed to meet AYP for at least two consecutive years, and each receives federal Title I funding because of a high population of low-income students.
The district must provide transportation to all of the students who choose to transfer.
"We're anxiously awaiting the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind so we can get out from under some of these silly expectations," Superintendent Scott Thompson said.
In neighboring Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54, one school has to offer school choice, spokeswoman Terri McHugh said.
Using an intricate formula, District 15 determined it needs to offer school choice to 110 students. Over the past few years, 55 kids have exercised the option, leaving 55 open spots for this school year.
Assistant Superintendent Mary Zarr said first priority will be given to students who both qualify for free or reduced-cost lunch and didn't meet AYP performance standards.
Parents will have two weeks to decide.
If enough families decline the option of transferring, the district will move on to the next priority of students: those not meeting AYP. Third priority is given to students eligible for free and reduced lunch, followed by students not meeting performance standards for other assessments.
"I think we can anticipate some rumblings regarding this because there will be some people that want to exercise choice that won't be given (the option)," Thompson said.
Zarr said it's possible many families will stay put due to factors such as Whiteley's location in the southwest corner of the district and the absence of a bilingual program there.
Officials weren't aware District 15 would be required to offer school choice until a few days ago when they were informed Whiteley made AYP -- only after the state decided to apply a special provision. In June, they believed no school had made AYP.
Thompson said it's surprising any school made AYP considering 92.5 percent of students had to meet or exceed standards to achieve that designation. In addition, cut scores were increased and the test changed to incorporate questions using the new common core standards.
Zarr noted students as a whole are seeing improved scores. She said the system is the result of an outdated mandate that hasn't been changed for political reasons.
"This takes us away from work we think is more beneficial," Zarr said.
The district is sending letters notifying parents at Whiteley and the seven eligible schools.
Winston Campus Junior High also technically qualified for school choice. However, there's nowhere to send the students because none of the other three junior highs made AYP.
Having to exercise school choice means part of the Title I funds that would otherwise provide students with extra support in reading and math will be reallocated. In addition to providing the students with transportation, more staff is being hired at Whiteley and certain early education classes serving kids districtwide are being moved elsewhere.
"That's why there are some schools that have refused Title I funds," Zarr said. "They don't want to be beholden to this."
Choice: AYP requires 92.5 percent of students meeting standards