Illinois joined the long list of states that have received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, the U.S. Department of Education announced Friday, which means its school districts won’t be punished financially or labeled as failures if all students don’t score well on standardized tests.
The waiver comes just in time to dodge the No Child law’s mandate that by the end of the 2013-14 school year, 100 percent of students must show proficiency in reading and math on state tests. In Illinois in 2012, only 32 percent of public schools and 17.6 percent of districts made the “adequate yearly progress” required by the federal law.
And the state is about to change its annual assessments from the Illinois Standard Achievement Test to the Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Career, known as PARCC.
No Child Left Behind “was completely out of sync with what was happening on the ground in districts,” said Anne Hyslop, a policy analyst with the Washington, D.C.-based New America Foundation. “It was completely insane that you would have 100 percent of students in Illinois or any schools being proficient in Common Core assessments that are more rigorous and more challenging.”
The waiver is “resetting the clock and allowing the state to identify schools that are really struggling with the new standards” instead of labeling so many schools as failing, she said.
Illinois had been seeking the waiver for two years, touting the new and tougher Common Core-based tests, an updated teacher evaluation process and a wider measure of a school’s performance that goes beyond test scores, said Matt Vanover, spokesman for the State Board of Education.
Going forward, the state’s lowest-performing 10 percent of schools will receive extra services as “focus schools,” and the lowest half of those will get even more help as “priority schools,” Vanover said.
Since its passage in 2001, No Child Left Behind required public school districts to make “adequate yearly progress,” with the percentage of children who score high enough to be considered “proficient” rising every year. The goal was supposed to hit 100 percent proficiency by the end of the current school year, according to the Department of Education.
Previously, districts failing to make “adequate yearly progress” enough years in a row had 20 percent of their Title 1 money — federal funds for poor children — restricted to specific intervention measures, such as after-school tutoring or busing to other schools. Vanover said there’s now more flexibility in how to spend it to improve their schools’ conditions.