Illinois granted waiver from No Child Left Behind Act

Paige Leskin, Assistant City Editor

Illinois was granted a waiver April 18 from the No Child Left Behind Act, joining 42 other states exempted from punishment if schools do not meet standards set by the law, which include a demonstrated 100 percent proficiency by students on standardized tests.

In exchange for flexibility from the U.S. Department of Education in following NCLB mandates, Illinois implemented a more rigorous system in evaluating school districts and their teaching processes, said Mary Fergus, a spokeswoman from the Illinois State Board of Education.

“It still provides assurance and transparency in school,” Fergus said. “It’s less primitive. It’s still about highlighting a number of metrics.”

The law was enacted under the George W. Bush administration in January 2002. Its goal was to “close the achievement gap with accountability, flexibility, and choice, so that no child is left behind,” according to the text of the law.

After its implementation, NCLB fell under strong criticism for its standards of adequate yearly progress, commonly referred to as AYP, used to measure student performance in schools, including a call for 100 percent proficiency in reading and math on state tests by the end of the 2013-14 academic year.

With this benchmark, only 17.6 percent of Illinois districts in 2012 met the AYP, resulting in a loss of federal funding for failed schools.

The Department of Education allowed states to apply for the waivers in 2011, letting them set state-specific reforms aimed at academic achievement.

The Illinois Board of Education called NCLB “counterproductive” and “unrealistic.” Fergus said the bill failed to take into account that schools in the state are starting at different levels of proficiency. The state’s mandates will address that disparity by identifying which schools need the most services, she said.

District 202 superintendent Eric Witherspoon agreed the law made goals that were unachievable for a comprehensive high school like Evanston Township High School, which has never met the proficiency level set by the NCLB before.

“Only a selective enrollment high school that tests students for admission and admits only students who are already proficient could have 100 percent of their students proficient in everything — including all special education student and English Language Learners,” Witherspoon said in an email.

Fergus said the Illinois mandates will focus on developing a more transparent evaluation system. The board is currently field-testing to alter its statewide test to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, which will replace the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.

Illinois aims to reduce its achievement gap by 50 percent in five years, a more attainable feat than the one from the NCLB, Fergus said.

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