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State report cards: Just five Southland school districts make ‘Adequate Yearly Progress’

Nathan Myolte Stephanie Las work their group poster project for vocabulary with focus sentence grammar their 7th grade English Language

Nathan Myolte and Stephanie Las work on their group poster project for vocabulary with focus on sentence grammar in their 7th grade English Language Arts class at Hickory Creek Middle School in Frankfort, Illinois, Friday, October 26, 2012. Nathan is weairng glasses for crazy glasses day. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun Times Media

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What is Common Core?

Frankfort Community Consolidated School District 157C will host three community coffees to outline the new Common Core standards. Sessions will be at 1:30 p.m. Nov. 13, and 1:30 and 5:30 p.m. Nov. 15 at the district administrative office, 10482 W. Nebraska in Frankfort.

Since this is a K-12 initiative, officials from both District 157C and Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 will be at the sessions to explain the new standards, designed to prepare students for college and careers. For more information, visit www.fsd157c.org or call (815) 469-5922.

2012 Illinois school report cards: Find your school
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Updated: December 1, 2012 6:07AM



It’s report card time again for schools throughout Illinois.

In the Southland, on the surface the results aren’t pretty. Only five elementary school districts and no high school districts made “Adequate Yearly Progress” as defined by federal law.

But it’s the system that delivers “a slap in the face,” according to Orland School District 135. Its students tested similarly well in math and reading as students in Frankfort Community Consolidated School District 157C, but District 135 did not make “AYP,” while District 157C did.

It’s the same story that has been repeated for the past several years. The Illinois State Board of Education releases results of student performances on standardized tests, and as more schools each year fail to achieve the goals set by the No Child Left Behind law of 2001, educators continue to stress that the results reflect only how well students test on one particular day, not how much they learn over the course of a school year.

According to state data released Tuesday, 713 of 865 school districts statewide — more than 82 percent — failed to make AYP.

The five Southland school districts that did make it are North Palos 117, Palos Community Consolidated 118, Homer Glen 33C, Manhattan 114 and Frankfort 157C.

This year, making AYP meant 85 percent of students — including various subsets of students — met state standards on the tests.

Most Southland superintendents contacted said they were pleased with the percentages of their students who tested well, but some were disappointed they fell short of AYP. No Child Left Behind also dissects student subgroups based on race, English proficiency, low-income and special needs, and those often are the students who aren’t keeping pace.

Those who did make AYP said they are lucky to have hit what is becoming a more elusive target. By next year, 92.5 percent of students must meet state standards, and in 2014, the number reaches 100 percent of students. School leaders have said all along that won’t happen, and they’re grateful a new system for measuring progress is in the works.

Making the grade

Frankfort District 157C Supt. Thomas Hurlburt said he was “happy” to learn the district remained “undefeated in AYP.”

With 90 percent or more of students consistently meeting standards, “we still try to improve student performance,” he said. “We want students to be confident, lifelong learners, to have a positive school experience — academically, socially and emotionally. We look at how students grow in all areas.”

He said the key to such consistency is to always focus on “good, solid instruction” and have “everyone pulling in the same direction.”

In Palos District 118, Supt. Joseph Dubec said last year was the first year the district did not make AYP, because special-needs students didn’t qualify. Overall, 95 percent of his students met or exceeded state goals, numbers that have been “pretty consistent,” he said.

While 100 percent is “an elusive target,” Dubec said, “the philosophy behind AYP is that all children should be challenged and we should always see growth. There is always something you can work harder on.”

Failing to make AYP last year meant working harder with special-needs students to make it this year, he said.

“We are very individualized. One hat does not fit all,” he said.

Subgroups

Orland District 135 also has consistently had 90 percent or more of its students meet state standards, but the district has not made AYP the past two years because of its special-education subgroup, interim Supt. Carol Kunst said.

“We knew it was coming, but it’s a slap in the face because it’s not a true reflection of who we are,” she said. “The first thing parents should hear is that we have 94 percent of our students meeting or exceeding state math standards and 92 percent in reading.

“We will continue to work to provide quality education for all students because that’s what we do,” Kuntz said.

North Palos District 117 is one of 51 districts that made AYP this year after failing last year, when it came up short in the subgroups of special education and students who speak limited English.

“We put a lot of effort into this. It’s a huge team effort and a lot of extra intervention,” Supt. Jeannie Stachowiak said of the turnaround. “Making AYP is very important. This is how we are judged.”

District 117 curriculum director Melissa Murphy said one strategy that paid off in improved reading scores was getting ereaders for students, downloaded with appropriate books, that they could take home and read. Laptops were provided in the classrooms for reading intervention students.

“This is how they learn,” Murphy said of the electronics equipment.

Homer 33C, which made AYP, and Cook County School District 130 are among the districts using co-teachers instead of separate classes to enhance instruction for special-education students.

“All students benefit,” District 130 Supt. Ray Lauk said, noting that the number of special-ed students meeting state goals in his district rose from 40 to 48 percent.

Lauk’s staff also uses a dual-language program to boost students with limited English proficiency. All students learn the content in two languages.

“Our total focus is closing the achievement gap. For too long, we’ve allowed the achievement gap to happen. We failed to educate the subgroups,” Lauk said. “If we don’t fix the problem now, our kids will be sentenced to a life of low-paying jobs and fewer opportunities.”

High school lows

Southland educators were disappointed but not surprised that no high school district statewide made AYP this year. High school scores are based on the Prairie State Achievement Exam given to juniors.

“We’re disappointed every year that we don’t make it, but we’re not disappointed in the efforts of our teachers and students,” Lincoln-Way Community High School District 210 assistant Supt. Sharon Michalak said.

With 68.8 percent of juniors hitting reading goals, and 70.9 percent meeting math goals, Lincoln-Way’s marks were the highest in the area among high schools. By comparison, Consolidated District 230 — Andrew, Sandburg and Stagg — had readings of 63.4 percent in reading and 64.7 in math.

Officials in both districts said their percentages are lower than last year.

“We hope parents look at this as a snapshot, and compare where we are with the rest of the state,” District 230 assistant Supt. Kim Dryier said.

It is a one-day assessment taken by a different group of students every year. It doesn’t show that students continue to do well after high school, get accepted into colleges and advance in their careers, she said.

In Community District 218 — Eisenhower, Richards and Shephard — 38.2 percent met reading goals and 39.7 met math goals.

“I really don’t care about the PSAE and the report card,” Supt. John Byrne said. “It does not assess learning, just the end score. We look at where the kids are when we get them and work to make them better.”

Eleven elementary districts feed into District 218, and not all use the same curriculum or textbooks, he said.

The next measure

The state, like much of the country, is moving closer to a new accountability system that emphasizes student growth rather than performance at one point in time, the state board said Tuesday in a news release.

Southland educators see the so-called “Common Core” standards as a fairer assessment. Illinois law calls for a progressive phase-in, the board said, with some districts beginning to use the new evaluation system as early as this year and all districts using it by 2016-17.

“The measuring stick will change dramatically,” Homer District 33C Supt. Mike Morrow said.

Common Core will provide a “link” between grade school and high school testing, Morrow said, so everyone prepares students for college or careers. Transfer students should also have an easier time adjusting, because these will be national standards.

“With Common Core, if you don’t meet the threshold, you don’t move on, you reteach it,” Byrne said.

It will measure how students grow, and give teachers a toolbox of suggestions. But it’s also a more rigorous curriculum and compares students on a national scale.

School officials are working to transition to the new Common Core standards, even though they still will operate under NCLB for two more years.

Lynn Zeder, Orland District 135’s assistant director of curriculum, said she is “looking forward to the demise of NCLB.”

“While it made us cognizant of subgroups, its goals were never attainable,” she said. “For two more years, it’s still the law and we will have to bridge the two worlds.”



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