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No Child Left Behind modified in Illinois

Illinois school districts should benefit from the easing of some federal No Child Left Behind Act requirements, but local superintendents say the law remains unrealistic and under-funded.

Officials with the Illinois State Board of Education announced late Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education had agreed to four proposed changes to the stateís enforcement of the federal law.

The move comes after years of pressure from educators across Illinois who claim that the lawís underlying expectation -- that every child, regardless of background or ability, can meet minimum testing standards -- is unreachable.

"Itís a step in the right direction," said Edwardsville School District Superintendent Ed Hightower, who helped formulate the recommended changes as part of Gov. Rod Blagojevichís Education Taskforce. "It does not address all of the concerns that educators are having about the process, but it did take major steps in addressing three or four of the issues, and I will continue to work in the future to get further changes."

One change forbids a district from being labeled "failing" unless every tested grade in the district falls short of testing standards.

While individual schools still can "fail" and face sanctions if their tested grades fall short, the district as a whole no longer will face sanctions as a result.

If a district "fails" year after year, the state can disband the local school board and administer the district itself.

Another change increases the number of students required to constitute a subgroup from 40 to 45. The original proposal, which included seven total recommendations, suggested bumping the number to 60.

The key sub-groups -- which must all meet minimum testing standards, or the entire school "fails" -- are based on race, family income, language ability and disabilities.

The other changes include requiring students to be enrolled in a district for a longer amount of time before their scores count toward No Child Left Behind calculations for that district, and allowing districts to artificially bump up the scores of students with disabilities -- who historically struggle to meet standards.

"These are all changes where the State Board is definitely reacting to the education community, who has tried to bring some common sense to really a very bad law," said Wood River-Hartford Elementary District Superintendent Lawrence Busch. "And when I say bad law, perhaps it had good motivations, but the rules that were wrapped around the law were terrible."

However, East Alton Elementary District Superintendent Mike Grey said the changes would have few tangible effects.

"I think itís a moot point," he said, saying he doesnít believe schools ever will be able to reach the stated goal of bringing every child up to testing standards by 2014, anyway. "I think it would be more fair to give students a pre-test when we get them, and hold us responsible for the gains they made during the time when we have them."

Rebecca Watts, a spokeswoman for the ISBE, said officials spent the last three months negotiating the changes with federal officials.

A number of other states have achieved similar changes.

As testing standards grow from year to year, she denied that the changes are an attempt to decrease accountability in the schools.

"Itís absolutely not a watering down of accountability," she said. "This is a more fair way of actually addressing how schools are measuring up compared to those ever-increasing standards."

The changes will apply retroactively to the tests students took in the spring, with the exception of the change regarding student enrollment date. It will take effect on the 2006 round of tests.

Watts said that State Board officials still would meet a start of the school year deadline to tell local officials how they fared on the spring tests.


The Illinois State Board of Education announced seven changes to the enforcement of the No Child Left Behind Act in Illinois. The changes below are billed as a more fair approach to holding schools accountable.

* Change number of students needed to constitute a subgroup from 40 to 45.

* A district is only labeled "failing" if every tested grade in the district falls short of testing standards.

* Schools may add 14 percentage points to the performance scores of their students with disabilities.

* Require students to be enrolled in the district by May 1, instead of Sept. 30, for their scores to count toward that districtís statistics.

— John Krupa
The Telegraph


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