By Terry Dean
Exercising an option required under federal No Child Left Behind legislation, five families from Oak Park's Beye Elementary School have requested a transfer to send their kids to another school in the district.
Those requests come two weeks after District 97 informed parents of their right to transfer out, following the poor showing of some Beye students on this year's state standardized tests. The "school choice" option is one of the mandates under the 10-year-old NCLB law. This is the first time in the law's history that a D97 school has been required to offer parents a choice option.
The five students whose parents requested a transfer could end up at one of Beye's two neighboring schools: Hatch, 1000 N. Ridgeland Ave, or Whittier, 715 N. Harvey Ave. Beye is located at 230 N. Cuyler Ave.
Students taking the Illinois Standards Achievement Test this year had to reach the 85 percent benchmark of meeting or exceeding standards in reading and math. Beye's African-American students failed to reach the mark, resulting in the school being placed on "federal improvement status" under NLCB. The ISAT's were taken by third-through eighth-graders in March, with students needing to show yearly improvement in reading and math.
D97 informed parents about the transfer option in an Aug. 8 letter.
Under NCLB, families have 30 days to request a transfer from the time they received the letter, but the Beye families won't get their requests processed until after those 30 days have elapsed, says D97 spokesperson Chris Jasculca.
That's because of a directive from the Illinois State Board of Education, which is requiring the district to ensure the transfers are based on the academic need and free- and reduced- lunch status of the students, Jasculca said.
Whittier and Hatch were chosen by the district because of their enrollment levels and proximity to Beye, Jasculca said. Those schools have enrollments of 412 and 326 respectively, according to D97 enrollment data for the previous school year. Beye's enrollment is 430 students, with a total of 325 families with students at the school.
A transfer form was included in the Aug. 8 letter, as well as an explanation of why the option was being offered and which students did poorly on the ISATs.
After receiving the letter, some Beye parents complained to the district because the subgroup was identified. Jasculca says that identifying subgroups in the letter to parents is a requirement for schools on federal improvement status. The district does, he added, share parents' concerns about that.
"Requiring school districts to publicly state in a letter which students failed to meet standards, to us, is more divisive and casts an unnecessary spotlight on that subgroup," he said.
"There needs to be some significant revisions and improvements in the law that places the focus on helping students rather than identifying failure."
The transfer forms were sent to D97's curriculum coordinator who oversees the ISATs and processed from there at the district's central office. The district would then work with the student's new principal to be enrolled, Jasculca said.
The meet or exceed benchmark has risen every year since the law's been in place. Critics of the law say that makes it increasingly difficult for schools to make adequate yearly progress on the tests each year.
"While we believe NCLB has some redeeming qualities, it also has significant flaws that tend to mislead the general public and unfairly malign the hard work of students, educators, and families," said Beye Principal Jonathan Ellwanger in a statement Monday provided by D97. "Our hope is that the legislation will eventually be changed to reflect a growth model that acknowledges academic success instead of student failure."
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