D65 subgroups fail to meet federal mandates

Brian Rosenthal

Administrators at Evanston/Skokie School District 65 have filed an appeal after failing to meet standards for the No Child Left Behind Act for the first time in three years.

The appeal alleges the district was unfairly hurt by a change in the test given to “limited English proficient” students. In past years, these students were able to take a less complex test. This year, they had to take the same test as native speakers.

“It’s an inappropriate test for learners who have not yet achieved English,” said Sarah Mendez, the district’s coordinator of bilingual education. “If you assess me in French, it’s not going to be an accurate assessment of my academic knowledge.”

The change was made because the old test was “not acceptable” to the U.S. Department of Education, State Superintendent Christopher A. Koch said in a message last October. The state is working with a consultant to draft a new test, Koch said.

According to a state report, nearly half of District 65’s limited-English-proficient students passed the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, the exam that determines whether schools meet standards for NCLB. Last year, 71 percent passed the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English, the former measure of success for those students.

Overall, more than 84 percent of District 65 students passed both the math and reading tests, significantly more than the 62.5 percent required by NCLB. But the act also mandates the same minimum pass rate for eight subgroups within the students.

All of the subgroups passed in the math category, but students with disabilities and students with limited proficiency in English each had passing rates of about 50 percent in the reading category.

The switch in tests negatively affected the scores of both categories, said Lora Taira, the assistant director of the district’s Information Services department. Students are counted in every subgroup they fit in, and many English-learning students were also classified as students with disabilities, she said.

Multiple districts across the state were negatively affected by the change, according to a statement released by the Illinois State Board of Education. Other nearby districts are appealing their NCLB statuses, said Mendez, citing the example of Cicero Public School District 99.

Overall, District 65 was proud of its scores, Communications Director Pat Markham said.

“We were actually very pleased overall with our student achievement results,” she said. “By and large, we’re seeing growth.”

Markham pointed to numbers showing that the passing rates of black students and economically disadvantaged students had each increased by more than 30 percent during the past six years. Overall, student achievement has increased by about 30 percent since 2003.

The school board was happy with the results, President Mary Erickson said.

“I think we’ve done a lot of progress,” she said. “We were very happy about it.”

The gains were made across the board, Superintendent Hardy Murphy said.

“Students who traditionally do well continue to improve,” he said. “That’s important to us. We see the achievement gap closing without sacrificing the achievement of those who do well.”

The improvement is due to a number of new initiatives, including instructional improvement and after-school programs, Markham said.

The district plans to continue to make changes to improve in the future.

“The bar gets set higher every year,” Erickson said. “There’s always work to be done.”

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