CHICAGO – State education officials released the last-of-its-kind report card for Illinois schools on Tuesday, offering the confusing and sometimes contradictory findings as Exhibit A in their reasoning to toss the system for evaluating students and schools.
The system is part of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, but Illinois is developing a new method that will test students at different times of the year to evaluate their progress, measure their reasoning and implement other changes. It also will allow students to earn a career readiness certificate to make it easier for them to find jobs.
"We are truly in a transition period in education as we move away from the punitive and one-size-fits-all nature of No Child Left Behind and into a system that will provide more comprehensive and useful information for parents, educators and students themselves about a child's progress over time," State Superintendent of Education Christopher Koch said.
Among the findings in the most recent report card were that 66 percent of Illinois public schools, or 2,545 schools, failed to make what is considered adequate yearly progress under the federal law. That is slight increase from the 65 percent of the schools that failed to meet the standards in 2011.
Only 11 of the 671 high schools met that standard based on students' scores on the statewide standardized test. Yet, some high schools that didn't meet that standard are still ranked "among the best high schools in the country," Koch said.
In fact, all it takes for an entire school to be deemed deficient is for just one or two students to fall short of what their particular subgroup was expected to achieve under No Child Left Behind, according to Koch and Illinois State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico.
"I think the law is severely deficient because those are fine schools and they deserve the proper recognition," Chico said during a news conference, where he listed several high schools that routinely receive national recognition for academics yet weren't among the 11 schools that tested adequate.
The tests did, however, point to problems with the way students are being taught and evaluated in Illinois, particularly in elementary schools.
Koch and Chico pointed out that scores among elementary school students and 11th graders both went up slightly. But while the percentage of students who met or exceeded state standards on testing was 82.1 percent for elementary school students, it was just 51.3 percent for 11th graders.
"There is no doubt about it, that there is a disconnect between what is going on at the elementary schools and what is expected and examined at the high school level," Chico said.
Koch said the new testing procedures and standards address those problems, and education officials are expecting teachers to understand the new standards, along with "what the students need to know and what they are going to need to know before they leave those teachers."
Illinois and many other states have already put in place new "common core" standards that set higher learning benchmarks for students.
Koch and Chico said the aim of overhauling the tests and standards is to be better able to determine how much students are learning and not just how they did on multiple choice or fill-in-the-bubble tests on one day. As a result, students will be tested at various times during the school year and not just once every spring.
"The idea behind that is to give the student and the teacher and the school information about how their students are doing so they might be able to act on that with instruction or strategies sooner," Chico said.
Further, Koch said students will be required not just answer the questions but explain their answers.
"That's a very different skill," he said.
The overhaul of the academic standards is the latest chapter in a long struggle nationwide to deal with shortcomings of No Child Left Behind Act, which Congress passed in 2002 to hold schools accountable.
Illinois has asked for a waiver for some key provisions of the law. Koch said he's optimistic that the U.S. Department of Education will ultimately grant the waiver, saying the only "sticking point" left is a timeline for teacher evaluations. The waiver includes parts of the new evaluation system.
Among other findings in Tuesday's report card were that there are 2,066,692 public school students in Illinois, or about 8,100 fewer than last year. Minorities make up 49 percent of the state's public school students, compared to 38 percent in 1999, in large part because the percentage of Hispanic students during that period climbed from 13.9 percent to 23.6 percent.