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District 97 Schools Show Mixed Results On ISATs

Whittier and Irving show improvement, but four new schools fail to meet No Child Left Behind standard.

Four Oak Park schools have failed to meet Illinois Standards Achievement Test scores, school officials said.

Oliver Wendell Holmes and Abraham Lincoln elementary schools, as well as Gwendolyn Brooks and Percy Julian middle schools, all fell short of making adequate yearly progress, or AYP, according to information released at Tuesday's Oak Park Elementary School District 97 school board meeting.

But the news was tempered with significant improvement in scores of students at John Greenleaf Whittier and Washington Irving elementary schools, especially black students there.

Whereas just half of black Whittier students met AYP in 2009 in reading, some 85% did so in 2010, for example.

Because all of the four schools failing to meet AYP this year performed up to standard a year ago, there will not be any penalties in terms of funding.

But school officials said the failures were especially troubling, considering the board plans to ask taxpayers for more money in a referendum this spring.

"Our community will be much more interested in supporting a referendum if they see these (consistently improved) results we're talking about," said Peter Barber, vice president of the board.

Principals from all four schools will be invited to an Oct. 26 school board meeting for an explanation, which board members insisted wasn't a reprimand. 

"I know it could be perceived that being called to the board table is comparable to being called to the principal's office," said Rance Clouser, a board member. "I don't see it that way. Nobody is on the hot seat."

The standards for the district are expected to only get more difficult, however.

To make AYP this year, 77.5 percent of District 97 students needed to meet or exceed minimum standards on the ISAT, which was administered to students in March.

Nearly 90 percent of District 97 students — 89.2 percent — did just that, meaning the district as a whole met its AYP standard, required by the No Child Left Behind Act.

But the benchmark increases each year, and it's currently set to reach 100 percent by 2014, leaving some board members concerned if the lofty goal was even attainable.

"Right now, we don't have a single school that could hit 100 percent," said Kevin Anderson, District 97's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning. "That doesn't mean we are not working hard in our classrooms."

But new superintendent Al Roberts, did not give up any ground, pushing for 100 percent of the district's students making AYP.

 "If we set our goals so that they are easily achievable, we'll never reach 100 percent," he said.

Data released at Tuesday's meeting highlighted the areas where students were falling behind: 

• Holmes -  Reading (black students)

• Lincoln - Reading test for both black and IEP (Individualized Education Plan) special education students. 

• Brooks - Math (low income subgroup)

• Julian - Reading and Math (IEP students)

Barber said he remained concerned that 75 percent of black students met or bested the testing standards, compared to 95 percent of white students.

"One of the major issues in our district is the achievement gap between black kids and white kids," he said.

Still, one board member said the mandated tests might be dramatically changing the quality of education in Oak Park altogether.

Robert Spatz questioned if the entire testing analysis was too one-dimensional. He said the tests are geared toward bringing up the lowest performing students in two specific subjects, reading and math, and wondered if Whittier and Irving weren't simply teaching to the test. 

"There may be a cost with what happened at Whittier and Irving to other subjects," he said. "We have to be honest about it if we are making trade-offs."

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