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NCLB Outrages

Nearly Half of Illinois Schools Fail NCLB Standards--Because of Missing Kids

Nearly 44 percent of Illinois public schools didn't meet new federal standards under the No Child Left Behind law, and some schools may have fallen below the mark because they did not test enough low-income students, new state data indicated Tuesday.

"The whole point of the law was to take care of those particular [low-income] kids,'' said DePaul University professor Barbara Radner, a member of a state advisory task force on the law. "Those are the kids we are supposed to be most concerned about and they are missing. It's alarming.''

Poor kids -- those receiving free or reduced-cost lunches -- were more than twice as likely as any other group in Illinois not to be tested last April, Illinois State Board of Education data indicated Tuesday. That rate is one reason the entire state probably will not meet federal standards this year, officials conceded. Poor performance of subgroups -- including some racial and ethnic groups, bilingual education students and special education kids -- also played a role, they said.

This year is the first in which subgroups within a school, district or state can prevent it from "making annual progress,'' either because at least 37 percent of each group didn't meet state standards in math or reading or because at least 95 percent of them were not tested.

In addition, 40 percent of all students in a school must meet state standards in both reading and math. Elementary schools must have an attendance rate of at least 88 percent and high schools must have a graduation rate of at least 65 percent.

"This thing is so complex, it's hard not to be in trouble,'' Radner said. "Everybody is going to get caught on this. It's almost like a Rube Goldberg machine for schools.''

Statewide, 10.4 percent of poor kids did not take state tests in reading last year and another 10.6 percent were not tested in math -- something that so concerned State Board of Education officials that spokeswoman Naomi Greene said Tuesday they will investigate.

But officials made clear participation wasn't the only hurdle schools failed to jump.

State Education Supt. Robert Schiller said in some cases one subgroup felled a whole school under the law. ''There's no surprise to this. It's just speaking to the challenges that all states, all districts and schools have,'' he said.

In releasing the final statewide results of Illinois' tests Tuesday, Schiller said that 1,718 of 3,919 Illinois public schools, or 43.8 percent, didn't make adequate yearly progress for one or more reason.

But other states have done far worse, Schiller said. Some 87 percent of Florida schools didn't pass federal muster, Delaware had 52 percent and Pennsylvania had 51 percent. However, many states have yet to report such data. In addition, each state gives different tests, with different standards for passing.

Consequences under the 2002 law can kick in after two years without adequate yearly progress. Tuesday's data indicated 581 schools that receive federal poverty funds fell in that category and should have offered students "choice'' transfers to better-performing schools this school year. That was 46 fewer than estimated in July, and about two dozen schools may have unnecessarily offered transfers, but students can stay in their new schools nevertheless, officials said.

Ronald Shields, principal of Chicago's Copernicus School, said throwing labels on schools is not going to help them progress.

"If a horse is going as fast as it can go and you're beating it, it's just in vain,'' Shields said.

— Rosalind Rossi and Kate N. Grossman
44% of state schools fail feds' test
Chicago Sun-Times


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