Schaumburg Township Elementary District 54 recently approved its District Improvement Plan for the year, required by its not meeting Adequate Yearly Progress by the standards of the federal No Child Left Behind Act for two years in a row.
No Child Left Behind, year by year, requires an increasing percentage of a school district's students to be meeting federal standards in reading and math. In 2013, the required percentage of test takers meeting standards was 92.5 percent.
In District 54, the totals meeting standards were 77 percent for reading and 80.9 percent for math.
However, the required percentage is expected not only of the student body as a whole, but in each of nine subgroups -- including categories of race, limited proficiency in English, economically disadvantaged and special education.
In District 54, students with learning disabilities were the lowest achieving subgroup, with 35.7 percent meeting standards in reading and 48.4 percent in math.
For the tests to be taken in 2014, 100 percent of students in every subgroup will be expected to meet reading and math standards or their schools will be considered failing.
Many educators perceived such standards as unrealistic and even counterproductive when the act was first approved in 2001. But there have been many benefits from it, even among districts that aggressively pursue their own methods of improvement, District 54 Assistant Superintendent of District Improvement Karen Hindman said.
"We're a high-performing district, but there's always something you can do better," Hindman said. "One good thing about No Child Left Behind is that it made us look at all of our children, not just at percentages."
An example is the online Rising Star Continuous Improvement Planning process the district will use in response to not meeting AYP last year.
"It's a very good reflective document about what your district's processes are," Hindman said. "It's really throwing out those reflective questions."
This is in addition to a self-imposed review process District 54 employs at all its schools every 90 days -- three times each school year.
However, one setback of No Child Left Behind -- particularly this year, when 100 percent of students will be expected to meet federal standards in reading and math -- is that many high-performing schools will be receiving failing grades.
A high number of failing scores among the nation's schools ceases to provide parents with good information about how well their own schools are doing, Hindman said.