By Terry Dean
Editor's note: Story updated to reflect corrected errors that appeared in print version.
The winding down of No Child Left Behind is a welcome sign to District 97, according to officials there.
The frustration with the more than 10-year-old federal law played out at the D97 Board of Education meeting, Sept. 24, where the district's 2013 state standardized test results were discussed.
The district as a whole did not make adequate yearly progress on the Illinois Standardized Achievement Test, or ISATs. But making matters worse, according to D97 officials, was the change in how tests were scored this year.
The Illinois State Board of Education earlier this year raised the performance levels on the tests, resulting in students needing to score higher in reading and math to make AYP.
That change, according to ISBE, is tied to the Common Core standards adopted by Illinois schools that will eventually replace NCLB.
Because of the change in "cut scores," D97, as well as many other school districts in the state, had a considerably lower percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards on the ISAT, D97 officials noted. The Prairie State Achievement Test, taken by high school juniors in Illinois, were also affected by the cut score change.
While Oak Park and River Forest High School's cut scores did not change, the school did not make AYP this year. The school, however, did experience percentage increases in reading and in math for some subgroups on this year's PSAE.
Holmes Elementary was the only D97 school to make AYP in both reading and math for all of its subgroups. The school, officials noted, made AYP through the "safe harbor" provision under NCLB. "Safe harbor" allows a subgroup to make AYP if it shows a 10 percent decrease in the percentage of scores that failed to meet or exceed standards from the previous year.
While not making AYP, Beye Elementary was the only D97 school that increased its percentage of students meeting or exceeding standards in reading on this year's ISATs. Every other school in the district saw its percentages drop.
Illinois schools with a high minority student population also saw a significant drop from the previous year, D97 officials noted.
Statewide, about 58 percent of students on average met or exceeded standards this year. The target range for students needing to meet or exceed standards this year was 92.5 percent. Under NCLB, the target range has increased since 2003 when the law was adopted. By 2014, 100 percent of students are required to meet or exceed standards in reading and math.
"This year, we got caught in a double-whammy with AYP with not only the target increasing to 92-and-a-half percent but also because the cut score was raised for students meeting or exceeding state requirements," said Felicia Starks-Turner, D97's coordinator for administrative services.
Harla Hutchinson, D97's student data specialist, noted other flaws with AYP, including how the safe-harbor provision is applied.
"I'm still not 100 percent sure how they do that because when you read what they say about it, when you look at what they show on the reports with safe harbor and whether you made AYP or didn't make AYP, it doesn't make sense to me," she said.
D97 board members and administrators also expressed frustration with how AYP has been applied over the years, and also the cut-score changes. Officials, however, noted that large numbers of D97 students are doing well academically, which the ISATs don't capture.