The District 65 School Board is considering whether to throw its support behind two resolutions that propose changes to the No Child Left Behind Act. One is a draft resolution proposed by the Illinois PTA; the other is a resolution being circulated by the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

Both resolutions support NCLB’s goals of raising student achievement, closing the achievement gap, and ensuring that each child has a highly qualified teacher.

“Our school districts need to find the common ground. We need a cohesive message on what works and what doesn’t work, so we can give clear marching orders to our representatives.”
— Robert Heuer, parent and member of the Joint Legislative Task Force

At the Board’s meeting on March 17, Board member Katie Bailey, the Board’s representative for the Joint Legislative Task Force, said the Evanston/Skokie District 65/202 PTA Council has been working with the Illinois PTA on the draft resolution. She said she supported the PTA Council’s grass-roots effort and supported a community dialogue on the issue.

Ms. Bailey said, “I want our community to work together on this, recognizing, as Dr. Murphy said, the moral imperative of NCLB and the need for all schools to reach those who are underserved, but also recognizing that there’re some issues that need to be resolved to go forward.”

NSBA Resolution

The NSBA resolution essentially supports proposed federal legislation, the No Child Left Behind Improvements Act of 2007, H.R. 648, which contains more than 40 amendments to NCLB.

Reginald Felton, director of federal relations for NSBA, told the RoundTable that H.R. 648 does not propose to change NCLB’s requirement that all students meet or exceed state standards by 2013-2014. He said, though, that H.R. 648 would allow greater flexibility to the states and local school districts in measuring whether students are making Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward meeting NCLB’s goal that all students meet or exceed standards by 2013-2014, and that school districts may be able to do that in ways beyond a single test. He said H.R. 648 also addresses the sanctions imposed for failing to demonstrate AYP.

Examples of some of the proposed changes are:

• Students who fall within more than one subgroup (i.e. ethnic, low-income, special education) would be counted on a fractional basis in each subgroup for purposes of calculating AYP;

• The AYP measurement system may be expanded to include an academic growth model as an indicator of success;

• A school’s IEP (Individual Education Plan) team may determine whether alternate assessments are appropriate for individual students (with parents’ consent), and test scores on these alternate assessments may be counted as proficient in measuring AYP as long as the number of students does not exceed 3 percent of all test takers.

• LEP (Limited English Proficient) students may be provided an alternative assessment that is based on making specific gains individually determined for that student toward meeting state standards for up to three years;

• If a transfer option is triggered because a school has failed to meet AYP for the requisite number of years, the option need be offered only to those low-achieving students within the subgroups that did not meet AYP, not all students in the school.

Dr. Murphy said, “I think the House Bill [648] is very powerful. I think it is very comprehensive, and I think it has suggestions that are far-reaching and that can make a difference for children, and at the same time allow a school district a reasonable challenge to improve themselves and schools.”

The NSBA states that more than 700 school boards from more than 40 states have passed resolutions endorsing H.R. 648. Mr. Felton said the resolutions of support demonstrate that the issues contained in the bill are important and need to be addressed.

Illinois PTA Resolution

The Illinois PTA draft resolution is patterned after a resolution adopted by the District 202 School Board in November, said Bob Heuer, a District 65 parent and member of the Joint Legislative Task Force and the District 65/202 PTA Council. He said the resolution has been endorsed by the PTA Council, and by about half of the local PTAs at District 65 schools; he is seeking the endorsement from the remaining PTAs. The Illinois PTA will vote on whether to adopt the resolution on April 19.

The Illinois PTA draft resolution supports the goals of NCLB, but contains four “broad policy statements” to make it more workable, said Mr. Heuer. The four statements are as follows:

• Create a growth model that would recognize student cohort achievement and progress as well as progress in any subgroup (defined by NCLB), and consider tests at more than one grade level in high school.

• Establish high proficiency targets and set a reasonable timeline for schools to achieve reasonable targets;

• Provide adequate funding at the federal/state levels to overcome the effects of poverty on academic performance and to invest in a nationwide literacy initiative; and

• Align the ISAT and PSAE so standards and proficiency levels are consistent across K-12 grade levels.

“The resolution is a conversation starter,” said Mr. Heuer. He said School Districts 65 and 202 have a wealth of knowledge about what works and what does not work under NCLB, and they should use that knowledge in advocating for meaningful changes to NCLB.

“Our school districts need to find the common ground,” he said. “We need a cohesive message on what works and what doesn’t work, so we can give clear marching orders to our representatives.”

Mr. Heuer envisions if Districts 65 and 202 back a common resolution, they could enlist the support of other school districts in the Minority Student Achievement Network, and the Illinois PTA could carry the ball on a national level. “There’s no expectation a bill is going to pass this year. We have a year to gather support,” he said.

Dr. Murphy expressed some concerns about the Illinois PTA draft resolution. Ms. Bailey said she forwarded those concerns to the Illinois PTA for its consideration.

Concerns Not Addressed

The resolutions do not address some concerns expressed about NCLB over the years. One criticism has been that NCLB has made schools increasingly test-oriented and that it encourages teaching to the test, rather than to promote learning. Another concern is the shift in instructional time. Anne Bryant, NSBA’s Executive Director, told school leaders in a Feb. 27 speech in Lombard that studies show 71 percent of school districts in the country have reduced their instructional time spent on history, music and other subjects in order to open up more time for reading and math.

Mr. Felton told the RoundTable that H.R. 648 does not directly address these concerns but it might provide help indirectly by providing school districts more flexibility in measuring progress in student achievement.

In addition, neither resolution proposes using national standards or a nationwide test. Dr. Murphy said, “Until there are national standards and assessments aligned precisely with national standards, we’re going to be in a position where people are arguing about whether the standards in Illinois are higher than the standards in Mississippi, whether the standards are lower than in Massachusetts or higher than the standards in California.”

He added that some states have better results because “they have different standards and they have different tests to assess those standards.”

Next Steps

The Board is scheduled to continue discussion of the resolutions at its meeting scheduled for April 7 and may possibly vote on whether or not to support the resolutions at that time.

Dr. Murphy said, “I think what we really want to do is to support the NSBA. There are some very meaningful changes in the House Bill.” While he had a number of concerns with the Illinois PTA resolution, he said, “I think we can support both of these.”

Alignment of ISATs and PSAEs

One recommendation made by the Illinois PTA is that the State align the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests (which are used to measure whether students in grades three through eight are meeting State standards) with the Prairie State Achievement Tests (which are used to measure whether students in the eleventh grade are meeting State standards).

School District 65 Board member Katie Bailey said at the Board’s March 17 meeting that the recommendation to align the ISATs and the PSAEs recognizes “”there’s some inconsistency there.””

At School Districts 65 and 202, the percent of eighth-grade white students who met or exceeded standards in reading on the 2004 ISATs was 95 percent; the percent dropped to 88 percent for those students as eleventh-graders on the 2007 PSAEs. For black students the percentage dropped from 54 percent on the 2004 ISATs to 33 percent on the 2007 PSAEs. For Hispanic students the percentage dropped from 48 percent on the 2004 ISATs to 27 percent on the 2007 PSAEs. Statewide results show a similar pattern.

In addition, District 65 eighth graders do much better on the ISATs than they do on the EXPLORE test, which is aligned with the ACT that is part of the PSAEs.

District 65 Superintendent Hardy Murphy expressed concern about the wording of the recommendation to align the ISATs and the PSAEs. He said if the alignment recommendation was important to the Board, the wording should be more precise and it should be put in a separate resolution addressed to the State Board of Education, because the State Board is responsible for the administration of those tests.

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...