More McHenry County schools are struggling to meet federal education standards, according to newly released data.
Only two of the county’s 19 school districts made Adequate Yearly Progress under the guidelines set by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
Statewide, about 7 percent of the state’s 863 school districts made the grade, compared to roughly 18 percent last year.
The federal law lays out strict expectations on school and district improvement, each year ratcheting up the percentage of students who need to meet or exceed state standards on standardized tests.
That percent applies not just to the school as a whole but to nine subgroups within the school, which include those based on race, whether the students have a disability and whether the students qualify for free or reduced lunch.
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This year, 92.5 percent of students – as a whole and within each subgroup – must meet or exceed the reading and math standards set by the state, up from 85 percent of students last year.
If the school fails to meet that percentage – or exhibit sufficient growth in reducing the number of students who are not meeting standards – the district as a whole is classified as failing.
“I honestly think it’s made school districts look at all students more closely instead of lumping all students together,” said Jean Bevevino, District 47’s assistant superintendent of curriculum. “It was good in that instance, but to label some schools as failing when they truly aren’t failing schools ... It’s hard to label them failing when they’re showing progress.”
Passed in 2001 and signed into law by former President George W. Bush, the goal was that 100 percent of students would meet or exceed standards by the 2013-14 school year.
Since then, 45 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education have submitted requests for extensions. Of those, the requests of three states, including Illinois, and the Bureau of Indian Education, are still pending.
The expectation was unrealistic, Fox River Grove School District 3 Superintendent Tim Mahaffy said.
The increase to the 92.5 percent benchmark also came with a decision by the Illinois State Board of Education to toughen up the grading scale for grade schools ahead of the implementation of the new Common Core curriculum standards.
Mahaffy points to those changes as why District 3 did not meet AYP this past year.
District 3, Prairie Grove District 46 and Riley District 18 were the only districts to make AYP last year, but none made it this year.
None of the county’s districts approach the 92.5 percent required under the law, but most are above the state average for students meeting or exceeding standards.
Only one school district – Harvard District 50 – was under the state average for reading, and three – Harvard District 50, McHenry High School District 156 and Woodstock District 200 – were under the state average for math.
The status is a drop for District 156, which had been experiencing improvement over the past couple of years, Superintendent Mike Roberts said.
“There is frustration, but we’re not going to let that frustration cripple us,” he said. “We’re going to work that much harder to find the reasons why [the drop occurred].”
Teachers and administration are having weekly meetings as they try to identify why the drop happened, Roberts said.
The district is trying to assess whether it was a blip based off one class or if their programs aren’t working.
Either way, Roberts said, the average isn’t acceptable and the district is going to continue to try to address its gaps.
The law has forced all districts to evaluate how all of their students are doing and develop plans to improve, Marengo Community High School District 154 Superintendent Dan Bertrand said.
Bertrand’s district and Alden-Hebron School District 19 were the only two districts in McHenry County to make adequate yearly progress this year, something he thinks is the result of a lengthy school improvement process.
Marengo Community High School added additional levels of algebra to make sure students, especially those who weren’t ready to move on to calculus, were still getting more math.
“I don’t think we’ve ever done a better job in teaching them or in the quality of teaching than we are now, and we’re doing it with a more diverse student populations,” he said.