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DeKalb County schools get their annual grades

New report cards reflect transition from No Child Left Behind

Published: Thursday, Oct. 31, 2013 5:30 a.m. CST

Hinckley-Big Rock School District 429 Superintendent Travis McGuire was proud that two of the 10 DeKalb County area schools to meet improvement benchmarks were in his district.

Both Hinckley-Big Rock High School and Middle School made Adequate Yearly Progress in a year when state officials toughened the elementary grading scale and rolled out a new school report card that ignores many of the factors No Child Left Behind legislation emphasized.

McGuire complimented his teachers’ and students’ work as overall student test scores outpaced some of the larger local schools.

“Even with the state changing cut scores, we still stayed above the state average,” McGuire said. “That shows well for the programs that we have in place.”

The Illinois State Board of Education released the new School Report Cards today at illinoisreportcard.com.

Among grade schools, numbers look worse in almost every category across the board, but that’s not necessarily because schools have been backsliding.

The state has imposed a tougher definition of what qualifies as meeting standards.

Overall, fewer schools that DeKalb County students attend made Adequate Yearly Progress this year. Last year, 17 of the 46 schools hit the benchmark, compared with 19 of the 47 schools in 2011. At the district level, none of the districts DeKalb County students attend made adequate yearly progress.

“I think all our school districts are going to look at this just like every other district in the state,” Genoa-Kingston School District 424 Superintendent Joe Burgess said. “I don’t think anyone’s sitting on their hands with this; I think everyone’s taking a hard look at the data and looking at areas we can improve.”

But some local school administrators and state officials cautioned that statewide standards are moving away from adequate yearly progress as defined in No Child Left Behind, which mandated that all students meet or exceed expectations by 2014.

New testing plan

The federal No Child Left Behind legislation hasn’t been renewed, and federal officials haven’t accepted Illinois’ request for a waiver of the requirement, said Amanda Simhauser, a spokeswoman for the state education board. But state education officials are pushing a new plan: They want to test students at least twice each school year and grade teachers and schools based on individual students’ improvements, rather than year-over-year test scores.

“While we’re waiting, we’re moving ahead,” Simhauser said. “That’s why we’re offering this growth model this year, but it’s not part of any accountability model. It’s what we hope to use in the future.”

New school report cards released today reflect that. Rather than detailing test scores for low-income students and calculations for adequate yearly progress, the shorter report card starts with details about a survey of students’ and teachers’ perceptions of the district’s learning conditions. Some districts piloted the survey, called 5Essentials, this year, and results for each school district will be listed on report cards next year.

The new report card also includes new calculations for the previous year’s elementary test results using the new, tougher standards, so parents can compare the 2011-12 test scores with the 2012-13 scores.

McGuire, in District 429, welcomed the changes to the school report card.

“You can never look at one piece of data and make a decision,” McGuire said. “For the state to recognize there are additional factors that impact the learning environment is a move in the right direction.”

In DeKalb School District 428, administrators are participating in the required school improvement processes while preparing teachers and students for the new type of standardized test that will be rolled out in the 2016-17 school year.

For his part, D-428 Superintendent Jim Briscoe expects parents will like the 5Essentials survey.

“My personal belief is that people is going to gravitate to that, because it’s about perception; it’s about how people feel,” Briscoe said. “People like to talk about how people feel.”

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