For those who have believed all along that the No Child Left Behind law was a flawed, pie-in-the-sky piece of legislation that would eventually frame public education as a complete failure, your prediction has turned out to be pretty accurate.
When the Illinois State Board of Education released its 2012 School Report Card, the percentage of “failing” schools was staggering. Less than a dozen public high schools in the state are considered “succeeding” according to the criteria and less than 20 percent of grade school districts can be considered “passing.”
The numbers are ridiculous and can be proven so simply by looking at local school districts. In Brookfield District 96 and Riverside District 95, more than 90 percent of tested students met or exceeded state standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) last spring. The state considers them failures.
Here’s the problem:
The state considers these districts failures because (in the cases of D95 and D96) there is a small segment of the district’s population who are struggling academically. That segment includes students in the district’s special education programs and students who are considered “economically disadvantaged.”
Where NCLB has succeeded is in getting school districts to face up to making sure all segments of their enrollment get the help they need to succeed academically. And as states move away from the arbitrary nature of NCLB and toward a different model, using new national standards, pressure must continue to be placed on schools to address glaring gaps in achievement for some groups of students.
The latest test scores for high schools show, for example, that black and Hispanic students at Lyons Township High School – otherwise a very fine school that outperforms all but 35 other high schools in the Chicago area, according to the Chicago Tribune – falls far short of acceptable.
At LTHS, more than 80 percent of black students failed to meet state standards in reading, math and science. Hispanic students did better, but fewer than half met state standards in each of those three subjects.
LTHS’ black student population is just about 4 percent, so those results don’t have much impact on the school’s overall performance. But the gap between the school’s overall scores (where more than 73 percent of students meet state standards) and those of its black and Hispanic students is unacceptable.
At Riverside-Brookfield High School, where overall scores were a bit lower than those of Lyons Township, the scores of the school’s minority students were actually a bit better, but still much too low.
There are plenty of reasons to be glad to see No Child Left Behind fade into the sunset. But whatever new assessment model takes its place in the coming years, attention must still be focused on those students who need academic intervention and who, in the old days, may have simply fallen through the cracks.
History and overall performance have proven that this area’s schools are far from “failing.” And while no school will ever have 100 percent of its students perform at the same or even a very high level, schools can always strive to do better for the most vulnerable.