Local school officials say federal education law has outlived its intent

Published: Friday, Dec. 6, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT • Updated: Friday, Dec. 6, 2013 7:16 a.m. CDT
(Sandy Bressner – sbressner@shawmedia.com)
Teacher Cecila Dunn works on writing with second-graders (left to right) Elizabeth Sidman, Alexis Schueler and Jackson Herra at Kaneland John Stewart Elementary School in Elburn.

When No Child Left Behind rules required John Stewart Elementary School to offer a choice for students to attend another Kaneland school this year, it had few options of where those students could go.

Students of the Elburn school had to have the option of attending a school that made Adequate Yearly Progress, which eliminated Blackberry Creek and McDole elementary schools as possibilities.

That left John Shields Elementary in Sugar Grove as the only option for Stewart families.

None, however, decided to transfer their children, Kaneland School District 302 Superintendent Jeff Schuler said.

Next year, when all students are expected to meet or exceed academic standards, school officials expect some of the repercussions for not making AYP – such as having to offer choice – will become irrelevant.

“You can’t offer choice if you don’t have any schools to offer as a choice,” Schuler said.

Batavia School District 101 already has encountered this with Rotolo Middle School, the sole middle school in the district. In July, the school sent a letter to parents explaining the school’s requirement to offer choice but why it was unable to.

“The No Child Left Behind Act provides you, as a parent, the option to transfer your child to another public school within the district with transportation provided by the district,” the letter stated.

“However, at this time we do not have a school within the district to which your child can transfer. We have contacted neighboring districts to request that they provide us with a school we can offer you as an option. Neighboring school districts are not accepting choice students or are also in a similar AYP status.”

Brad Newkirk, the chief academic officer for Batavia, said the district received calls from parents confused by the letter, which also explained that Rotolo didn’t meet the 92.5 percent target for reading and math for a particular subgroup of students.

Some parents believed their child was failing or the school failed the child, he said.

He said the district wants to stress to parents that it’s not their student or the school failing. Rather, he said, the school missed a benchmark requiring more than 90 percent of students to meet or exceed standards.

“This one metric has really put a black mark on the school, but if you look holistically at the school through a number of assessments, [Rotolo] is a high-performing school,” Newkirk said.

St. Charles School District 303 Superintendent Don Schlomann – whose district had to offer choice at three schools this year but only had two schools as options – said he and others expected No Child Left Behind would change before the 100 percent benchmark in 2014.

While the federal law brought some positives, such as a different way of looking at student data, Schlomann said, its intent and usefulness have been outlived.

“Something has gone amiss when we’re at that point where some of our best performing schools in the country, ones many of us look up to in their performance, are now seen as failures,” Schlomann said. “I think it took a lot of the meaning out of the law.”

Recognizing that many No Child Left Behind requirements unintentionally became barriers to state and local educational reforms designed to raise academic achievement, the U.S. Department of Education two years ago invited states to apply for a waiver to the federal law.

Since then, 42 states – in addition to the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico – have received waivers to No Child Left Behind.

The Illinois State Board of Education’s request remains under review, as are applications from Iowa and Wyoming, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

According to an ISBE news release issued Oct. 31, the only barrier to approval is the state’s timeline for when districts must use student growth in their new local teacher evaluation system.

The federal education agency is calling for districts to implement new evaluations in 2014-15, but Illinois law plans for a progressive phase-in through 2016-17, according to ISBE.

Assuming the state’s waiver won’t be granted and no law is passed to replace No Child Left Behind, Schlomann expects no school in the Fox Valley will meet AYP.

“We’ll be saddled with trying to get every child to perform well on a test in one day in every school,” he said.

Schuler said it’s difficult to guess what will happen.

“I don’t know exactly what to expect,” he said. “There are so many balls up in the air right now, it is difficult to even attempt to predict what the impact is going to be.”

Know more

Visit http://iirc.niu.edu for information about your school’s academic performance.

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