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Only 1.5 percent of state public high schools met federal progress mark

Gery Chico chairman Illinois State Board Education

Gery Chico, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education

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 Progress by grade

Updated: November 22, 2011 8:39AM

Nearly 99 percent of Illinois public high schools failed to meet federal progress standards this year, state officials revealed Thursday in announcing plans to seek a waiver from the increasingly demanding federal No Child left Behind law.

Only eight of the state’s public high schools made “adequate yearly progress,’’ or AYP, meaning at least 85 percent of their overall students and subgroups of students — including special education and low-income kids — passed their 2011 state achievement tests.

“We know there’s a lot better story going on than that,’’ said Gery Chico, chairman of the Illinois State Board of Education. “More than eight high schools are doing well with their students...

“I’m very, very disturbed by the No Child Left Behind Law and what it’s doing right now to schools by labeling them as failing because they do not make AYP.’’

Schools that miss AYP for six consecutive years face the most severe sanctions, which can include closure. Nearly 400 Illinois schools now fall into that category.

Chico said Illinois would be taking up the feds on a recent decision to let states apply for waivers to the law. Illinois’ plan to do so in February, Chico said, is not an attempt to cover up lousy results — including this year’s record-low high school pass rate. Instead, he said, the state will push for a more “realistic” accountability system with “rigorous” but “attainable” goals.

The law’s requirement that all students, and subgroups of students, must make AYP by 2014 was unrealistic when it was signed in 2002, Chico said. “I saw this day coming’’ at that time, he said.

Last year 77.5 percent of students had to pass their state tests for a school to make AYP, but this year 85 percent had to do so.

This year, more kids passed the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests in grades three through eight — but more high school juniors flunked the Prairie State Achievement Exam, which includes the ACT college admission test.

Overall, 82 percent of students passed their ISATs, up 1.1 percentage points, with reading scores improving in every grade, three to eight, and math down only in sixth and seventh.

But only 50.5 percent of high school juniors passed their PSAEs, down 2.5 percentage points from last year. Both 11th grade reading and math pass rates dropped.

State officials blamed the high school declines on new rules this year that barred high schools from prohibiting academically weak juniors from taking the test. As a result, they said, 12,500 more students took this year’s high school exam.

State Supt. Chris Koch once again noted the “disconnect” between the state’s elementary-grade test, with its 82 percent pass rate, and its high school one, passed by only half of all juniors. As a result, Koch said, the state’s waiver “will be raising the expectations for elementary’’ tests while providing better and more complete high school measurements.

Koch said he wants to give schools credit for growth and to “redefine what it means to make AYP.’’ In high schools, Chico said, officials may add other measuring sticks to the mix, such Advanced Placement tests and honors-level courses.

“There’s something wrong with the system if only eight schools in Illinois made AYP,’’ said Linda Yonke, superintendent over the district housing high-scoring New Trier Township High School, which failed to make AYP for the second year in a row, based on its special education population.

Yonke said New Trier has an ACT average of 27.5, and even the bottom 10 percent of its students scored above the national and state average on the ACT.

“But we didn’t make AYP,’’ Yonke said. “It’s just a reflection of how meaningless this whole process has become.’’

The federal requirements mean that, “three years from now, literally if you have one student who didn’t meet or exceed standards, your school would be failing,’’ Yonke said. “It’s just not feasible unless your standards are so low they have no meaning.’’

The waiver would provide a breather until 2014, when Illinois will join a consortium of states in adopting a new, more rigorous test tied to “common core’’ standards.

Koch said Thursday the common core test is expected to be more expensive because it will probably include more questions requiring short written answers, and will be given at the beginning and end of a school year to assess the growth of individual students. As a result, Koch said, Illinois may not want to test its elementary students in every grade in the future.

“I would argue probably in the United States, we’re testing too much. Countries that are exceeding us [in international tests] are not testing every child every year in every grade,’’ Koch said. Instead, he said, they are choosing to put their education resources elsewhere.

Contributing: Art Golab

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