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16 of 19 McHenry County school districts miss federal mark

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(Monica Maschak – mmaschak@shawmedia.com)
Prairie Grove sixth-grade teachers Mike Bohne and Amy Sosnowski share a laugh during a daily team meeting for lesson planning Tuesday at the junior high school. Prairie Grove is one of only three districts in the county to make adequate yearly progress for two years in a row.

More McHenry County schools are joining the growing list of Illinois schools that don’t make the grade by federal education standards, newly released student achievement figures show.

Roughly 82 percent of the state’s 865 school districts failed to make adequately yearly progress under student achievement standards set by the Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act.

The mark is a slight increase from last year, when 80 percent of Illinois districts didn’t make adequate yearly progress.

Overall, 66 percent of all individual Illinois schools failed to meet yearly progress, up one percentage point from 2011, data released today from the Illinois Board of Education shows.

Locally, 16 of the county’s 19 districts didn’t make yearly progress. Fifteeen districts missed the mark in 2011. Individually, 70 of the county’s 99 schools failed to progress in 2012 compared with 62 schools in 2011.

Despite the lack of progress, the complicated standards in No Child Left Behind can skew the performance picture of many schools. Most districts in the county performed far above the state averages in standardized tests, but only three districts made adequate yearly progress by federal standards.

Yearly progress is largely dependent on the performance in nine student subgroups, including whites, blacks, Hispanics, economically disadvantaged students and those with disabilities.

For example, Crystal Lake District 47 didn’t make yearly progress for the second year in a row, despite high achievement scores. The district had the second-highest area average in the Illinois Standards Achievement Test in math (93.6 percent) and a leading average in reading (88.9 percent).

But certain subgroups, such as economically disadvantaged and students with disabilities at Beardsley Elementary, failed to meet proficiency standards set by No Child Left Behind. The district consequently didn’t make yearly progress.

“You have school districts out there that are considered the highest in the nation that aren’t making [yearly progress],” said Jean Bevevimo, the district’s assistant superintendent of curriculum. “I personally take issue with schools being labeled as failing, even when the overall school is making progress, despite some subgroups.”

The No Child Left Behind law has been routinely criticized for labeling schools as failing even if students are making progress and for relying too heavily on standardized tests to determine student growth.

The criticism comes despite bipartisan praise for the reform in 2001, when President George W. Bush moved his signature education policy through Congress.

“The law continues to bring resources to states to help us meet these goals, but the metrics weren’t these goals, but the metrics weren’t realistic, and it caused us to negatively label schools even when they were making progress,” said Illinois Superintendent Christopher Koch in a teleconference with reporters earlier this month.

The state is currently transforming assessments that would tie elementary and high schools to a “common core” of standards, as Illinois still waits to hear on its waiver from the No Child Left Behind mandates, Koch said.

President Barack Obama already has waived half of the states from the law’s mandate that 100 percent of students meet or exceed assessment standards by 2014.

The lofty 2014 proficiency goal was put to the test last year when 85 percent of all students needed to meet or exceed standards versus 77.5 percent in 2010. Illinois struggled after the number of schools failing to make yearly progress jumped 51 percent.

Using the same proficiency rate, many area districts, including District 47, had high assessment performance but failed to make yearly progress. The performance dynamic has everything to do with the federal law’s focus on student subgroups, officials from various local districts said.

Schools with more diversity are generally at a competitive disadvantage than schools with less diversity in making yearly progress, said District 300’s Kara Vicente, assistant superintendent for middle school teaching and learning.

The district is one of the largest in the state and has a diverse mix of low-income, white, Hispanic, Asian and black students. The district experienced firsthand the subgroup effect this year.

Sleepy Hollow Elementary averaged a district-best 93.8 percent in the math ISAT and averaged 86.5 percent in reading. Algonquin Lakes Elementary posted similar numbers, averaging 92.4 percent in math and 86.7 percent in reading.

Sleepy Hollow ultimately made yearly progress, but Algonquin Lakes did not. That’s because Sleepy Hollow has two subgroups to Algonquin Lakes’ three, including students with disabilities who didn’t meet standards in reading.

“I think that’s one of the reasons why we look at multiple data points for our students,” Vicente said. “That one 45-minute [ISAT] test may not encapsulate what that child is able to do. We look at this set of data, but we also look at other sets of data, too.”

The three districts in McHenry County to make yearly progress in 2012 all were smaller systems in the more outlying parts of the county.

Prairie Grove District 46 (915 student enrollment), Fox River Grove District 3 (508 student enrollment), and Riley District 18 (300 student enrollment) all made yearly progress for two consecutive years.

Prairie Grove has two subgroups in the entire district, and students with disability and economically disadvantaged students made yearly progress.

Sandy Ozimek, curriculum, assessment and learning coordinator for the district, said Prairie Grove’s few subgroups is a “contributing factor” to the district’s ability to make yearly progress. She also said the district’s two schools do an effective job targeting students who are struggling in the classroom.

“I think our teachers do an outstanding job on a daily basis with targeting all of our students and differentiating their individual needs.”

Huntley District 158, with an enrollment of more than 9,000, had high ISAT averages and saw four schools make yearly progress after no school met the benchmark in 2011.

Despite the success, though, the district overall failed to make yearly progress because three subgroups did not make the meet-or-exceed target.

The district isn’t overly frustrated with the current education standards, said Chief Academic Officer Mike Moan. “If you look at the total impact of NCLB and the [yearly progress] process, the fact that it brought to light [subgroups], I think is a positive,” he said. “We want all of our students to meet those targets.”

At the high school level, schools across the state generally see a significant drop-off in student assessment scores. No high schools in the county made yearly progress and only 11 schools in the state did.

The state’s overall ISAT average was 82.1 percent “meet or exceed” compared to a 51.3 percent composite average with the Prairie State Achievement Examination, given annually to high schoolers.

The performance gap between elementary and high school exists because the ISAT and PSAE test different skill sets, said Scott Kubelka, curriculum and assessment director for Crystal Lake District 155.

Despite not making yearly progress, the high school-only district posted a leading ACT composite score (22.9) and the second-highest PSAE composite average (68 percent) in the area.

Kubelka said the district doesn’t strictly rely on PSAE because it isn’t effective in preparing students for college or careers. The district also relies on ACT, advanced placement and dual credit data to monitor student growth.

“With that few of high schools in the state making [progress], clearly there is something wrong with that system,” Kubelka said. “It’s advantageous for all districts to have different assessments to look and monitor whether students are prepared for college and careers.”

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