SPRINGFIELD — Half of Illinois’ high school students cannot read or solve math problems at grade level, but state school leaders are not blaming the students or teachers. They are blaming the federal program No Child Left Behind, or NCLB.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — Half of Illinois’ high school students cannot read or solve math problems at grade level, but state school leaders are not blaming the students or teachers. They are blaming the federal program No Child Left Behind, or NCLB.

Illinois State Superintendent Chris Koch and State Board of Education Chairman Gery Chico on Thursday unveiled the dismal results from last spring’s standardized tests.

Under NCLB guidelines, 85 percent of students must be proficient in reading and math by 2011. The bar is raised to 100 percent by 2014. These same percentages apply to science for high-schoolers.

Students in third through eighth grades as well as 11th grade take standardized tests to measure their adequate yearly progress in reading, math and science.

This past year, about half of Illinois’ 11th-graders, who take the Prairie State Achievement Exam, or PSAE, scored at or above the 85 percent benchmark:

  • 51 percent in reading and math;
  • 49 percent in science.

In all, 656 of Illinois’ 666 public high schools failed to meet NCLB requirements.

Students in third through eighth grades, overall, scored below the 85 percent benchmark, except for the following student groups who scored at or above the mark:

  • 85 percent of eighth-graders in reading;
  • 86 percent of eighth-graders in math;
  • 87 percent of fourth-graders in math.

Students in third through eighth grade take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, or ISAT. In all,1,892 of the state’s 3,231 elementary and middle schools did not meet the federal guidelines.

Overall, 65 percent of Illinois’ 4,321 schools failed to meet the federal standards. Last year, 51 percent of schools did not progress.

Chico said the rise in failure rates indicates that NCLB has “lost its usefulness.”

“The motives were good; the ideas were good. But like a lot of things over time, it is now creating problems for us,” said Chico.

Chico said NCLB is “improperly labeling” students and schools as failing, because schools that are close to meeting the benchmark are still classified as missing the mark.

Illinois is seeking a federal waiver from the NCLB requirement that all students must pass standardized reading and math proficiency tests by 2014.

President Barack Obama recently said the federal government would agree to waivers, if the states were to be held more accountable for whatever educational progress students and schools actually achieved.

“We all kinda knew that the bar that was being set, every year, that level was going up to a point that no one can reach it,” said Chico.

But Koch said NCLB ignores progress in favor of results.

“If you’re making improvements in one, two, or three grade levels, that’s a great thing,” said Koch. “Right now in this system, you don’t get credit for that. If we were given credit for that, we’d be seeing and recognizing a lot of schools for the improvements they are authentically making on behalf of students.

Robin Steans, executive director of the education advocacy group Advance Illinois, said parents need to monitor their child’s progress.

“At the end of the day, parents care most about what is going on with their children,” said Steans. “Parents need to be involved to make sure your children are really where they should be.”

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  1. ETHS proposes eliminating 9th Grade Straight Honors Biology

    In Friday's Board agenda and information, the ETHS Administration is proposing to eliminate 9th grade straight honors biology.

    This issue will be unveiled tonight at 7:30 pm at the board meeting at ETHS.

    I think the board meetings are also now televised live on TV – Comcast Cable Channel 18 ? (can anyone verify)

    More information is provided on the ETHS web site :

    My junior son took the Mixed Biology Class his Freshman year and he was challenged and got a lot out of the class due in large part to his teacher. My 8th grade daughter will possibly be in the current Honors Biology class. My 2 elementary schoolers, who knows. Given the differening academic needs of my children, what's wrong with choice? What's wrong with meeting THEIR needs? I understand concept of differentiated instruction and have read some work of the guru Carol Tomlinson, but executing this concept in the classroom is extremely difficult. And it's more difficult in higher grades. District 65 talks a lot about differentiated instruction, and some of the exceptional teachers can do it, but they are like the Marines, the few and the proud. Just because someone takes a painting class at the Evanston Art Center doesn't qualify them to be an artist in my profession. Taking a couple of differentiated instruction classes doesn't qualify a teacher to effectively practice this craft. It takes an exceptional person with years of training.



    1. Sounds like more ‘Every Child is above Average’

      The schools trying to have mixed everything seems to subscribe to the everyone is above average idea.

      They think there is no difference in anyone's abilities, that all their children are above average and should get top grades even for just showing up for class.  Woe to any teacher that  does not give straight  'A's and dares to tell any student he/she is not doing the work [why the really good teachers—and only them—need tenure].

      The children grow up thinking they are the rulers of the world and that as princes and princesses everything will be handed them on a silver platter. 

      The schools need to recognize reality and bring the poorer performing students up, not the bright students down  This was once called "American games, Japaneese rules"—–i.e. at the end of the game[grade] all scores/grades are about equal and no one feels they are less than anyone else.

  2. MIXED Football – Varsity team eliminated

    In Friday's Board agenda and information, the ETHS Administration is proposing to eliminate Varsity Football.

    Coaches will use differentiated instruction.

    Under the new program, beginning next school year, all freshmen who have the requisite athletic skills for high school work will have the opportunity to earn Varsity credit on the field. Those not proficient in football will be assigned to a class called 1 Football with Support.

    This will replace the present program, which includes both a straight Varsity team as well as a mixed team with both regular and Varsity players.

    When the changes were first proposed on Nov. 8 by Superintendent Eric Witherspoon, it was perceived by many parents as a “dumbing down” of the athletic experience at the high school.

    More than 100 persons showed up at that board meeting, many of whom denounced the program on those grounds. The superintendent vigorously defended the proposed changes, asserting that the program would do just the opposite and would position the school as a leader in the high school athletic world.

    Instead of lowering the athletic rigor of the program, he declared, it would actually subject all but a few students who have catching and passing difficulties to the same curriculum as that currently provided on the straight Varsity team.

    “This recommendation,” he insisted, “is designed to create a school where many more students attain higher athletic achievement, to improve learning for all students, to raise the athletic ranking of ETHS, and to increase the prestige of ETHS when colleges, universities, and employers are considering our students and their credentials. This recommendation is designed to greatly benefit all ETHS students and benefit our community for generations to come.”

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