Five of the seven schools in East Maine Elementary District 63 did not make "adequate yearly progress" last year under the federal No Child Left Behind law.
In a Wednesday presentation, District 63 Superintendent Scott Clay and Executive Director of Teaching and Learning Charlene Cobb stressed that the district is nevertheless educating its students well.
Cobb and Clay described NCLB as a flawed law which never got the revamping that was intended, and indicated it's not useful as a way of measuring school performance.
“The biggest question I get is, is my child’s school failing? I would have to unequivocally say no, our schools are not failing,” Cobb told about 10 parents at the Sept. 5 school board meeting at Gemini Junior High, where the presentation by Cobb and Clay took place.
The questions and concerns came from parents who recently received letters from the district saying that their school had not made adequate yearly progress – in some cases, for the fourth year in a row – under the federal law.
Those letters are mandated by the law, but they don’t do a very good job of explaining what’s really going on.
What 'No Child Left Behind' Set Out To Do
The No Child Left Behind Law was passed in 2001 and required states to come up with assessments in reading and math that would be taken by all students, and with standards that students would have to meet on those assessments.
Results are reported not only for every school, but for subgroups of at least 45 students within schools, including racial and ethnic groups, students from low-income families, students with disabilities and students who are not proficient in English.
Each year, a certain percentage of students in each school – and the same percentage of students in each subgroup – must meet or exceed the state’s testing standards for the school to be considered to have made adequate yearly progress. The percentage of students that must meet the standards has ratcheted up over the years; under the schedule, 100 percent of students are supposed to meet state standards in 2014.
“I think when we get to 100 percent in 2014, no district will meet AYP,” Clay said.
This year, the bar was set at 85 percent. That means, for example, that in a school with a large population of students who are not yet proficient in English, 85 percent of them would have to meet state standards on a reading test written in English, Cobb said.
88 percent of D-63 6th graders made AYP, but it didn't count
In District 63, for example, 88 percent of all sixth-graders met or exceeded standards last year. But the district did not make AYP in sixth grade because 83 percent of low-income students, 43 percent of special education students and 58 percent of students with limited proficiency in English met the standards.
Law gives an advantage to smaller districts and schools
The law makes it easier for smaller, more homogeneous schools to pass, because they often do not have 45 students in any particular subgroup. If there are fewer than 45 students in a subgroup, then their performance is not tracked under the law.
In District 63, only in Morton Grove and in Glenview made AYP last year.
Gemini parent Marianne Gudmundsson, who spoke earlier in the meeting about her son being in some classes with nearly 40 students at Gemini, pointed out that schools without enough disadvantaged kids to make up a subgroup do have an advantage, because teachers can focus their attention on a class that is moving more or less at the same pace.
Younger grades make AYP more than higher grades
As a rule, Clay said, more elementary schools make AYP than junior highs, and more junior highs than high schools, because they are smaller and draw from smaller neighborhoods and don’t have as many subgroups whose performance is tracked. This year, only nine of 1,325 high schools in Illinois made AYP, and six of them are selective enrollment schools in Chicago.
D-63 students rose from 82 to 96 percent in meeting standards
To demonstrate that the district is effective when it comes to educating students, Clay said that of the 216 students who were with the district from third grade until they graduated from eighth grade last spring, the percentage meeting state standards grew from 82 percent in third grade in 2006 – when schools had to show only 47.5 percent meeting state standards – to 96 percent when they graduated.
Why NCLB has become a flawed measuring system, they say
Part of the problem, Cobb said, is that when the law was passed in 2001, 11 years ago, it was supposed to be reauthorized in five years, and lawmakers could make changes. Many educators never expected the standard to get anywhere close to 100 percent.
But it never was reauthorized, and likely won’t be before 2014, Clay said.
Under the law, children in schools that have not met adequate yearly progress standards for at least two years are to be given the option of being bused to another school in the same district that does meet the standards. School districts must spend at least 5 percent of their Title I federal money to do so. But once there is no more funding available for busing, no more students can participate.
Last year, District 63 spent about $100,000 – about 15 percent of its Title I money – to bus 40 children. Because it has no more money available for busing, no new children will be able to participate, Cobb said.
In schools that have not made AYP for at least three years, low-income students who did not meet standards must be offered supplemental education services to be provided by an outside vendor at the district’s expense, Cobb said. The district is supposed to spend 5 percent of its Title I money on that as well.
Both Cobb and Clay said the No Child Left Behind Law did some good things, by increasing school accountability and forcing districts to pay attention to the performance of groups of students that are disadvantaged. But, Clay said, it’s not fair to label schools that are working as “failing.”
“It’s a very flawed law,” he said.