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Top Suburb Schools Hit By "No Child" Sanctions

Students at a number of well-regarded suburban schools will have the right to transfer out, as the number of Illinois public schools facing federal sanctions ballooned again this year.

Just days before the beginning of school, the Illinois State Board of Education on Tuesday released a preliminary list of 694 schools around the state that will have to offer students the choice to move to better performing schools, and in some cases, receive tutoring and other services.

Although the numbers could change in coming weeks as school districts review state data, the list currently includes 360 Chicago public schools that have failed state achievement tests for at least two years in a row, the period that triggers sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The list also features schools more accustomed to accolades, including Hinsdale South High School, Evanston Township High School, Lyons Township High School North Campus and Highland Park High School.

"This is what we had projected," said State Schools Supt. Robert Schiller. "Many of these schools were working from such a deficit that they would have to make leaps and bounds to avoid going onto the list."

Eighty-two percent of the schools--or 572--are in the six-county Chicago region. Twenty-three schools, all but one in Chicago, have failed for five years in a row and must plan for "restructuring," which could include reopening as a charter school or being taken over by the state if scores do not improve this year.

Last year, 562 Illinois schools were branded as low performers and were required to give students the option to switch schools or provide special services. The penalties apply only to schools that receive federal poverty funds known as Title I.

Many suburban schools found themselves labeled as failures for the first time last year, when they were judged not only on schoolwide scores but on the performance of different racial, economic and special education subgroups.

Those that had one or more subgroups fail to meet state standards again this year now are subject to penalties.

Although many of the suburban schools on the list are associated with affluent bedroom communities, educators say the test results underscore the growing economic and racial diversity of their student bodies.

And though some of the schools continue to perform well overall, bringing every subgroup up to the same level--the stated goal of No Child Left Behind--remains a daunting task.

"The more subgroups you have, the more likely you are to not make [testing goals]," said Phil Prale, assistant superintendent of Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200, with a student body that is 66 percent white, 27 percent African-American and 4 percent Latino. Prale said that while the school's overall test scores improved last year, low-income students did not reach state goals in math.

"These are top-notch schools," he said. "When they land on these lists, I suppose we could reexamine what are the criteria and goal of the legislation."

Township High School District 113 Supt. Ann Riebock said she intends to contest state data that show Highland Park High School failed to meet testing goals.

"I'm disappointed that this takes an excellent school and ... makes it look like it is doing poorly," Riebock said.

Schools on the list released Tuesday either did not have at least 40 percent of students scoring at grade level on state tests, or at least 37 percent of students passing in subgroups.

Schiller expects the list to grow as the state adds schools that did not test enough students or meet attendance and graduation benchmarks.

Several educators were critical of the state for releasing the list in mid-August as they are preparing for students to return to school.

Most said it would be impossible to effect any transfers before school begins, and some said it may not be possible to offer any transfers at all this year.

Schiller said the federal law is "out of sync" with the timetable of springtime state testing, saying virtually every state has had trouble getting data back to schools in a timely fashion.

Schiller and board spokeswoman Karen Craven pointed out that Illinois districts have had since June to correct demographic data and have had since the end of July to look over test results. Only 20 percent have submitted final corrections.

"We do the best we can to help districts through this process, but eventually there has to be some accountability at the local level," Craven said.

Of the 694 schools with repeated low performance, all are required to offer transfers; 455 will also supply extra tutoring; and 242 of those are in the "corrective action" stage, meaning they must consider staff changes or adding resources such as a longer school day.

Chicago Schools Chief Arne Duncan said he expects some of the 22 Chicago schools in the "restructuring" category will show enough improvement to stave off further sanctions.

But Duncan said he is willing to get tough on schools that continue to fail. He pointed to the district's Renaissance 2010 plan that calls for shuttering some low-performing schools and creating 100 new schools, most of which will be run as charter schools or independently operated contract schools.

"We're not afraid to take bold steps to help our children get a better education," Duncan said.

In some districts, such as Thornton Township High School District 205 in the south suburbs, every school landed on the poor-performing list, leaving neighboring districts as the only option for transfers--an unlikely scenario. The same is true for one-school districts such as Evanston Township High School District 202 and Oak Park and River Forest High School.

In Lombard District 44, students at Glenn Westlake Middle School are now eligible to transfer, but there's no other middle school in the district to which to send them. The school made the list because special-education students didn't test high enough in math.

"Theoretically, it would look like we would have to offer the option of attending a neighboring district," said Lombard Supt. Jim Blanche. "You're sending a letter home, in most cases, to parents whose children are having a wonderful experience, and then you get this letter that there is something profoundly wrong with their child's district. That doesn't help what we're trying to accomplish."

Students at two of the 15 schools in Evanston Elementary District 65--Chute Middle School and Washington Elementary School--are eligible to transfer to other schools this year even though overall achievement in the schools increased, said Supt. Hardy Murphy.

Shirlene Ward, whose son is a 7th grader at Chute, said she won't send her child to another Evanston middle school even if the district will pay to send him.

"I'm not going anywhere, and nobody else I know is," said Ward.
Copyright 2004, Chicago Tribune

— Jodi S. Cohen and Stephanie Banchero
Chicago Tribune


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