The standardized testing at the heart of the federal No Child Left Behind law has served as a virtual report card on local schools, and if Illinois schools were assigned a letter grade on those tests, most would be getting Fs.
Districts 218 and 229 did not make Adequate Yearly Progress, a NCLB guideline that focuses specifically on standardized test scores.
All told about 80 percent of Illinois schools fail to meet standards under NCLB. In February, the Illinois State Board of Education plans to seek a waiver from some of the law’s provisions now that the president has authorized states to seek exemptions if they commit to reform efforts.
Specifically, the state wants an exemption from the requirement that all students must pass standardized reading and math tests by 2014.
In October, the state released standardized test data. Illinois Statehouse News reported on the results:
This past year, about half of Illinois’ 11th-graders, who take the Prairie State Achievement Exam, or PSAE, scored at or above the 85 percent benchmark:
- 51 percent in reading and math;
- 49 percent in science.
In all, 656 of Illinois’ 666 public high schools failed to meet NCLB requirements.
Students in third through eighth grades, overall, scored below the 85 percent benchmark, except for the following student groups who scored at or above the mark:
- 85 percent of eighth-graders in reading;
- 86 percent of eighth-graders in math;
- 87 percent of fourth-graders in math.
State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico told Statehouse News that the failure rates show NCLB has “lost its usefulness.”
To receive a waiver, the state must:
- set stricter curriculum standards
- establish teacher and principal evaluations ties to student performance
- turn around 15 percent of the worst-performing schools
Most educators argue that there are two primary issues with NCLB. The first is the notion that districts can work up to 100 percent of their students meeting benchmark requirements. The other is the reliability of standardized tests as an accurate measure of performance.
Superintendent John Byrne of says that students come into high school at such varying levels that growth over time is what should be the focus.
"The way we assess needs to be standardized," Byrne said.
This national approach would allow scores from state to state to be more accurately compared.
"It was never a standard test because it was applied in different ways," Byrne said. "You were never comparing apples to apples."
Byrne says that if anything, NCLB started an important national discussion about education standards and that while further adjustments and changes are needed, it was a start.
"It raised awareness at a time when it was important to do so," Byrne said.