Editorial: Inflexible AYP standards cast unfair spotlight on Kaneland, other school districts

By on September 13, 2012

It was during Secretariat’s legendary performance in the 1973 Belmont Stakes that a reporter in attendance allegedly wept at the sheer display of perfection the horse exhibited en route to a 31-length victory and subsequent procurement of the elusive Triple Crown.

Indeed, the sight of Secretariat’s perfect race reduced a grown man to tears, and it was because “perfection” is an occurance rarely experienced in any walk of life. To witness it would be akin to viewing Hailey’s Comet or the career of Michael Jordan—enjoy it, because it almost certainly will not happen again in your lifetime.

The ultra-scarce and seldom-felt nature of perfection, however, didn’t occur to those who created the No Child Left Behind Act 10 years ago, when they put forth a graduated academic plan that, if realized, would be the equivalent of the perfection displayed by Secretariat at the ‘73 Belmont Stakes: an achievement that bordered on the impossible and the unthinkable.

The act’s Academic Yearly Progress (AYP) standards are based on Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) for grades 3-8 and the Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) for grade 11, and mandate that a specific percentage of students at those grade levels in every state school meet or exceed the reading and mathematics requirement in place for the year. According to the Illinois Interactive Report Card website, the AYP target was set at 40 percent for 2003 and 2004, 47.5 percent for 2005 and 2006, 55 percent for 2007, 62.5 percent for 2008, 70 percent for 2009, 77.5 percent for 2010 and 88.5 percent for 2011. The AYP target number for 2012 and 2013 is 92.5 percent.

The AYP target number for 2014 is … (wait for it) … 100 percent meets and exceeds.

Simply put, NCLB is a well-meaning academic accountability tool that was fueled by unchecked ambition, not reality. The results, as you can imagine, have left much to be desired.

Kaneland Superintendent Jeff Schuler said Kaneland High School has been on the fails-to-meet-and-exceed list for several years (since 2007, to be exact) and remains there, as does almost every high school in the state. Harter Middle School and Kaneland John Stewart Elementary also recently failed to make the cut, both due to the performance of a subgroup in those respective buildings.

AYP requires 77.5 percent of every subgroup to meet and exceed reading and mathematics requirements. Subgroups are defined by racial demographics, limited English proficiency (LEP), special needs students involved in individualized educational program (IEP), and low income.

John Stewart met AYP standards with the entire student population, but did not meet the standard in reading with the economically disadvantaged subgroup.

Despite three Kaneland schools failing to satisfy AYP requirements, only John Stewart, which receives Title 1 funds, will be designated as a “choice” school. That means students who attend John Stewart now have the option to transfer to another Kaneland elementary school. The School Board on Monday designated John Shields, McDole and Blackberry Creek as schools that will accept choice students

For what it’s worth, Harter Middle School‘s meets-and-exceeds rate was 91 percent in 2011—9 percent higher than the state average. John Stewart last year scored an 87 percent meets-and-exceeds rate, which was 5 percent higher than the state mark.

Even the high school, at 57 percent, was six points higher than the state average in 2011.

“We’re still paying the price for a policy passed in 2002,” School Board trustee Tony Valente said on Monday.

Schuler last winter said he hoped the state would issue a waiver to provide Illinois school districts with some much-needed relief from AYP standards.

Kaneland may have to wait a while for that waiver to materialize, as Schuler said his understanding from the state superintendent is that a waiver this year is unlikely. However, a waiver in 2013 isn’t out of the question.

“While I applaud the desire to build accountability for the learning of all students, the system has to be realistic and fair. The current system does not meet either of those criteria, and I am hopeful a waiver will change that for next school year.”

Let’s hope so, because NCLB and its AYP requirement of 92.5 (soon to be 100 percent) meets and exceeds is a standard that few, if any, state schools can realistically hope to achieve.

In fact, those are numbers even the mighty Secretariat couldn’t have outrun.