Educators hope for break from No Child Left Behind
Suburban educators say a more accurate system to gauge student progress is needed if Illinois receives relief from certain federal No Child Left Behind provisions, which critics contend have led to most schools being tagged as failing.
Results from the 2011 state report card show 80 percent of Illinois districts and 65 percent of schools failed to make adequate yearly progress under the federal law's increasingly strict performance measures. Only eight high schools in Illinois made annual yearly progress in areas such as reading and mathematics based on 2011 standardized test results.
Steve Cordogan, director of research and evaluation for Northwest Suburban High School District 214, said such a large number of failing schools indicates the current evaluation system is flawed. He said the process should include a student test with national standards and results charted over a period of years.
"When (almost) every school is labeled as failing, the evaluation becomes meaningless," he said.
Wauconda Unit District 118 Superintendent Daniel Coles said schools across the country have been "set up to fail" with the federal No Child Left Behind mandate. He said he hopes future report card results can take into account children's different backgrounds and abilities if the state gets away from some of federal provisions.
"I think local control was, is and continues to be the best for public education," Coles said.
Under No Child Left Behind, 85 percent of students -- up from 77.5 percent in 2010 -- needed to meet or exceed testing standards for a school to be considered passing and making annual yearly progress on the 2011 state report card.
This year's results show 2,548 schools are failing and 1,259 passing, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The number of failing schools in Illinois has increased each year since 2006.
In 2006, there were 3,091 schools that passed and 679 failures when 47.5 percent of students had to meet or exceed adequate yearly progress standards established under No Child Left Behind. The passing percentage jumps to 92.5 in 2012, with 100 percent compliance targeted for 2014.
Against that backdrop, state officials say they'll seek a waiver in February from the U.S. Department of Education to be exempt from some of the federal law's requirements.
They say it'll be an effort to create an accountability system based on academic growth and individual student progress rather than meeting unattainable performance targets. Federal education officials say states with an acceptable measurement plan that receive a waiver wouldn't be required to have students hit 100 percent proficiency three years from now.
President Barack Obama announced last month states could apply for the waivers if they meet conditions, such as enacting standards to prepare students for college and having more accountability for educators.
State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said plans already are in the works for a teacher and principal evaluation system, establishing common core standards for pupils and demonstrating a track record of intervening with the lowest-performing schools.
"I do not believe that only eight of our high schools are doing an adequate job in the state," Koch said.
Elementary school pupils take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. High school juniors are given the Prairie State Achievement Exam over two days, which includes the ACT college entrance exam.
Many suburban school officials complain how pupils with special needs or who don't speak English as a primary language must take the same standardized test as other children because of the federal rules. They say poor results from just a few students in a subgroup can cause an entire school to be tagged a failure.
Schools that don't make adequate yearly progress can wind up on the hot seat by being placed on academic early warning or watch status. Depending on state report card results, a school may be directed to pursue "corrective action."
Passed in 2001, No Child Left Behind received widespread bipartisan support. The Obama administration said the waivers from some of the law's requirements are being offered because Congress hasn't made significant progress toward rewriting the law.
If Illinois is granted the waiver, officials in Naperville Unit District 203 advocate using several measures to demonstrate student progress over time because it would be a more realistic view of children's learning.
Educators then could address any learning gaps or the needs of students with disabilities, along with establishing high expectations for all children and having fair, accurate measuring tools that more accurately reflect progress, said Kate Foley, assistant superintendent for pupil services.
District 203 backs establishment of common core standards for students as suggested by Illinois' superintendent of education. It's a practice already used by the district.
"One of the advantages of the common core state standards -- which provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn -- is that we will have common assessment tools tied to these standards," Foley said. "The more we are able to tie measurements to the common core, the better we will be able to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching and learning in our schools."
• Daily Herald staff writer Marie Wilson contributed to this report.