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High school faces testing deadline

Evanston Township High School faces drastic changes next year if it again fails to meet performance goals under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The school has fallen below federally-defined Adequate Yearly Progress standards five years in a row.

District 202 administrators say another year of failing results will trigger penalties that could force the school to reopen as a public charter school, replace all or most of its staff, enter into a contract with a private management company, or implement another restructuring program with fundamental reforms.

The district has until February to choose one of these options or develop its own plan and submit it to the state.

"As one board member I’ll say to you, you will meet AYP this year. You will do everything that is necessary to meet AYP," said Omar Khuri during Tuesday night’s board meeting.

"You will figure out a way to meet these ridiculous standards because we don’t have a choice. And I know I don’t have the authority to impose that upon you, but to me it makes absolutely no sense that we don’t make it."

AYP is based on test scores from the Prairie State Achievement Exam, the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English, and the Illinois Alternate Assessment.

Because of the NCLB legislation, 55 percent of ETHS students had to meet state standards on these tests. In reading only white students and students with disabilities made AYP.  In math white students made AYP, while black, Hispanic, disabled, and economically disadvantaged students did not. 

Next year, 62 percent of the students in each of these groups need to meet the standards.

While ETHS did not make AYP this year, the graduation rate was high, attendance improved, and the ACT scores were the highest they’ve been in six years, according to Judith Levinson, district director of research, evaluation and assessment.  Students are improving on the tests, but not enough to make AYP, she said.

In general high schools are not meeting the standards, because the "test is tough and the target keeps moving up," Ms. Levinson said.  ETHS, though, is one of the first schools to enter the restructuring phase.

"The larger you are and the more diversity you have the more ways you have to potentially not make AYP," said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon.  "You must make it in every subgroup and in each area–math and reading–in order to make AYP."

To avoid restructuring, the district must meet AYP the next two years.  In an effort to improve the test scores, ETHS has already instituted after-school homework centers, a system of supports program and morning tutoring sessions.

"Our faculty and staff are treating this as hugely urgent," Mr. Witherspoon said.  "I’ve never ever seen a school respond so rapidly and so universally.  But I have to tell you, I don’t know if all of these efforts combined will be enough because we are into some uncharted territory. I’m very hopeful, but I also know we have an awful lot to learn."

Congress will consider the reauthorization of the NCLB act, which could affect schools like ETHS that are facing restructuring.

But Mr. Witherspoon, doesn’t believe much will change.

"There really isn’t much indication that it’s going to go away.  There is serious work being done on the reauthorization of the bill," he said.  "I think it’s very likely that there will be a fairly strong piece of legislation that is going to want to see students across the country, of all races doing much better educationally."

Board members advocated sending input and information to legislative representatives prior to the reauthorization.

The district administration will present a restructuring plan in December or January for the board’s review.

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