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Our view: Focus on goal behind NCLB, AYP

Published: Sunday, Nov. 3, 2013 5:30 a.m. CDT

Are McHenry County’s schools failing our children?

Of course not.

But if the only information you had was the Adequate Yearly Progress report released last week by the state of Illinois, you might think otherwise.

These school report cards have been released annually since the No Child Left Behind Act was passed by Congress during President George W. Bush’s first term.

While its intentions were good, NCLB’s requirement that schools meet progressively higher goals on standardized testing until all classes and subgroups achieve 100 percent of the national standards is unrealistic.

A school is listed as failing under NCLB standards, for example, if a subset of English-as-second-language students, or students with learning disabilities, doesn’t meet the standards.

This year, 92.5 percent of students – as a whole and within each subgroup – had to meet or exceed the reading and math standards set by the state in order to achieve AYP status. That’s up from 85 percent of students last year. Schools also could meet AYP if the number of children not meeting standards drops by 10 percent from the previous year.

As a result, only two of the 19 school districts serving McHenry County made AYP this year. And just 11 McHenry County schools combined – elementary, middle and high schools – met NCLB’s ever-increasing standards.

As we write each year when the new school report card information comes out, parents should not be overly alarmed. Generally, McHenry County schools do well when compared to other schools in Illinois.

The problem mostly lies with NCLB itself and its arbitrary, unreasonable requirements.

But that doesn’t mean there’s not room for improvement in our schools.

The numbers show that far too many students read below state standards at many of our high schools, for example. At Alden-Hebron High School, Harvard High School and Dundee-Crown High School, fewer than half of 11th-graders met state reading standards. Some other high schools are barely above half. That needs to improve.

Parents who are concerned about their children’s school’s performance should set up a meeting with the principal. Schools should focus on the goal behind the law, which is getting more kids up to state standards, instead of the arbitrary number of students set by the federal government.

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