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Standardized testing went particularly well at L.J. Hauser Junior High School in Riverside in March 2011.
Of the students in sixth through eighth grades who took the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), almost 95 percent met or exceeded state standards in reading and math – the school’s best results on the exam ever and miles ahead of where the school was in 2005, when 88 percent of students met reading standards and just 75.5 met math standards.
Turns out 95 percent – that’s a solid A in every middle school class in the nation – isn’t good enough.
Hauser Junior High is not making adequate yearly progress, also for the first time, according to the Illinois State Board of Education. The reason? According to Hauser’s School Report Card, issued by the state board of education, students with disabilities failed to meet state benchmarks in reading and math, with 62.2 percent making the grade in reading and 68.9 percent in math.
So under the terms of the federal No Child Left Behind law, which the state uses to evaluate school success, Hauser Junior High is failing. This despite the fact that in 2011 the Illinois State Board of Education recognized Hauser with an Academic Excellence Award for the school’s high academic performance.
“It’s happening all over the state,” said Hauser Principal Leslie Berman. “Now we’re getting to the point people have predicted all along. When you hit a certain level, even the best schools will not make it.”
When NCLB began in 2003, a school succeeded if 40 percent of its students met state standards. Since then, that number has climbed. In 2011, in order to be considered a successful school, 85 percent of students had to meet state standards. Next year that number will be 92 percent.
“I don’t think there’s anybody left who believes that what we’re doing [with NCLB] makes any sense,” Berman said.
It’s the first time students with disabilities has counted as an official subgroup for Hauser when evaluating success on the ISAT, meaning the school has at least 45 students with disabilities.
But the way to evaluate the success of students with special education needs isn’t to set an arbitrary benchmark, said Berman.
“Rather than an arbitrary number, for all students it makes much more sense to see where they are starting and then employ best practices to have them grow,” Berman said. “If they have meaningful growth, how can you negate it?
“Our kids are achieving at unprecedented heights.”
ISAT scores at Hauser are comparable with the district’s four other schools, where at least 90 percent of students in third through fifth grades met or exceeded state standards in reading and math.
District wide, 93.8 percent of students met or exceeded in reading and 96.6 in math. That compares favorably to the state of Illinois as a whole, where 82 percent of students met or exceeded on the ISAT exam.
Success was also reflected in the district’s three student subgroups – Hispanic students, students with disabilities and low-income students.
Hispanic students performed nearly as well as their white counterparts, with 93 percent meeting or exceeding state standards in reading and 94 percent in math. For low-income students, 84.4 percent met or exceeded in reading and 90.6 in math.
The lowest-performing subgroup was students with disabilities, where 72.7 percent cleared the bar in reading and 84 percent in math. One reason scores are so much higher in the grade schools than the middle school for students with disabilities, said Berman, is that the same kinds of students aren’t being included in the subgroups.
In grade schools many students are not struggling at all academically, but they need services such as speech therapy. Those students are included in the special education subgroup for testing purposes. By the time those students reach Hauser, they are no longer receiving those services. In fact, said Berman, there are no students at Hauser receiving routine speech therapy.
“You’re not comparing apples to apples,” she said.