Only two school districts in the Sauk Valley met federal No Child Left Behind standards, even though benchmarks were frozen at last year’s level, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
And more than 40 schools, including every high school in the area, failed to make adequate yearly progress (AYP) toward those goals.
“Are our schools failing? No,” Dixon Superintendent Michael Juenger said. “Did we meet the requirements of students meeting or exceeding scores on a test? No, we did not. But we own that score. And we have work to do.”
The Illinois State Board of Education last week made public its annual report cards for schools and districts in the state. The news, although grim, is not surprising.
Several local districts are on a federal watch list for repeatedly not making AYP. That list includes Sterling Public Schools, which has missed the mark for a fifth consecutive year.
“I’m not surprised, but I’m not disappointed at all,” Sterling Superintendent Tad Everett said. “I believe it is vitally important to be held accountable for student learning, I just completely disagree with the tool the government uses to assess that accountability.”
Many school officials say AYP soon might not matter: Illinois, along with many other states, has sought a waiver of No Child Left Behind requirements, and its petition remains under review with the U.S. Department of Education, according to the state board.
“We’re confident this is the last year we’ll be talking about data compiled under the classification of AYP,” said Mary Fergus of the Illinois State Board of Education. “[The No Child Left Behind law] is outdated ... and it doesn’t really reflect what’s going on in our schools; it’s not a good measure of student progress.”
Illinois, in the meantime, has asked for and received a freeze of annual measurable objectives at last year’s levels, which means AYP calculations for the 2011-12 school year are based on 2010-11 standards, according to the state board. Schools this year were expected to show 85 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards, just like last year.
“Are we suddenly not doing a good job, or can we just not keep up with the ridiculous number that No Child Left Behind is putting forward?” Rock Falls Elementary Superintendent Dan Arickx said. “We’re still doing a good job; we’re still improving. We’re just not improving fast enough.”
Schools can miss making AYP based solely on the performance of one subgroup, even if the school overall meets benchmarks.
This is the third consecutive year that every high school in the area fell short of AYP. And this year, more elementary and middle schools have joined the list, which includes Rock Falls Elementary School District, which has missed the mark for a second straight year.
All three schools in the district made AYP in math, but the full district did not because students with disabilities, who are identified as not able to work at grade level, fell short of the standards, Arickx said.
All three schools failed to make AYP in reading, but about three in four students met or exceeded expectations, Arickx said.
“We were pretty close,” he said, “but we still missed the mark.”
In Sterling, Lincoln Elementary School, the highest-performing school in the district, failed to make AYP because students with disabilities missed the mark in math, Everett said.
“It has been a [state] Spotlight school 2 of the last 3 years. It is formerly a Blue Ribbon school,” he said. “It has received national and state awards, and I have one report that says Lincoln is not making AYP.
“Is AYP a true assessment of whether a school is successful or not? Absolutely not.”
Local districts and schools likely will find themselves failing again next year, as the state is raising the standards that elementary and middle school students must meet or exceed on the state test, thus making it more difficult for them to make AYP, even if benchmarks remain frozen at current levels.
“They are making it harder for students to meet or exceed [performance] standards,” Arickx said. “They are basically saying what may have been good enough in the past isn’t going to be good enough anymore. It’s going to be much harder to make AYP. There’s no question about it.”
The state board of education is not raising the bar so districts and schools fail, Fergus said, but to bridge an achievement gap between elementary and middle school students and high school students.
“Right now, we have 81 percent of elementary students meeting or exceeding standards, but only 51 percent of high school students,” she said. “We know there is a disconnect, and we know that has to be rectified. ... It’s not going to be easy.
“We know scores are going to drop off next year, but it’s an important step. It’s something we have to do to get a better gauge of where students are and prepare them for high school and beyond.”
Illinois expects to receive a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements. Instead of following those benchmarks, the state would implement its own evaluation plan, which the state board outlined in its petition, that aims to measure student progress over time, rather than on one test on one day, Fergus said.
Educators have roundly criticized the federal law for labeling schools as failing even if students make progress and for relying too heavily on standardized tests to determine that progress. But some local officials say the law has made them accountable.
“I would never shy away from being held accountable,” Juenger said. “We have to roll up our sleeves and figure out how we can do better.”
Only two local school districts made adequate yearly progress this year, while 20 fell short, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
Who passed? Who failed?
--Rochelle Township High School
--Rock Falls Elementary
--Rock Falls Township High School
Schools that missed the mark
Forty-two schools did not make adequate yearly progress, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. They are:
--Amboy High School
--Ashton-Franklin Center High School
--Ashton-Franklin Center Middle School
--Bureau Valley Elementary School
--Bureau Valley High School
--Bureau Valley South middle school
--Central Elementary School, Rochelle
--David L. Rahn Junior High School
--Dillon Elementary School
--Dixon High School
--East Coloma Elementary School
--Eastland High School
--Eastland Middle School
--Erie High School
--Franklin Elementary School, Sterling
--Fulton Elementary School
--Fulton High School
--Jefferson Elementary School, Dixon
--Lincoln Elementary School, Dixon
--Lincoln Elementary School, Rochelle
--Lincoln Elementary School, Sterling
--May Elementary School, Rochelle
--Merrill Elementary School (Rock Falls)
--Milledgeville Elementary School
--Milledgeville High School
--Morrison High School
--Oregon High School
--Polo High School
--Prophetstown High School
--Reagan Middle School
--Rochelle High School
--Rochelle Middle School
--Rock Falls High School
--Rock Falls Middle School
--Southside Elementary School
--Sterling High School
--Washington Elementary School, Sterling
--West Carroll High School
--West Carroll Middle School
--West Carroll Primary School
Annual report cards for Illinois schools are available at www.isbe.state.il.us under the "Illinois Schools" tab.