By NICK MARIANO
MT. VERNON — —
Although failing to meet federal progress standards in learning — standards that may be coming to an end this year if the state has its way — what matters most to educators of Mt. Vernon’s high school is progress was made, they say.
Claiming there is a disconnect between federal standards under the No Child Left Behind Act, measuring student progress will be one of the cornerstones of any new standards the state is seeking to replace NCLB with beginning as early as this school year, state officials announced with the release of last week’s Illinois State Board of Education’s 2012 School Report Card.
While only 11 high schools in Illinois met or exceeded NCLB Adequate Yearly Progress standards this year, many high schools that did not are ranked among the best schools in the country, State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch said.
AYP this year called for 85 percent of students tested meeting or exceeding standards in math and reading. That percentage was to increase to 100 percent by 2014. Other factors such as graduation rates are included in the assessment.
“We are hopeful that this is the last year we report on AYP results and can instead offer data that paints a fuller picture of each student’s and school’s learning experience,” he said.
The Mt. Vernon Township High School District joined 713 Illinois districts, or 82 percent, including elementary and unit districts, that failed to meet the 2012 AYP standards.
To MVTHS Superintendent Mike Smith, reaching seven-year highs in several areas measured by the assessment including most subjects tested for college and career readiness is more telling of the district’s effectiveness than whether AYP was met, he said.
“I think it is important to show that there is a track record there of improvement because quite frankly when you look at those past scores that wasn’t happening. As a matter of fact the trend was heading in the opposite direction prior to three years ago,” he said.
With this year’s 85 percent threshold, the district’s results were 51 percent in reading and 50.7 percent in math. Still, overall assessment results placed the district 12th among 26 high school districts of 500 enrollment or more in Southern Illinois, Smith said, adding that three years ago “we were at the bottom of the pack.”
The math scores are the highest they have been since 2006 when 46 percent of students met or exceeded AYP, which at the time was 47.5 percent. The low for the district came in 2009 and 2010 with scores of 37.3 percent and 37.2 percent, respectively, when AYP was 70 percent and 77.5 percent for the two years.
That 13.5 percent improvement in math, particularly as AYP increases most years, is what Smith called most significant. Same goes for seven-year highs in English, science and math in college and career readiness. Reading came in with a new four-year high.
“If the state were to come in here tomorrow, I would say look at our track record. Look at where we were three years ago and look at where we are now, and what they would do is turn right around and walk out because they would say you are getting the job done,” Smith said.
Smith acknowledges work remains. Only in English did a majority of students, 56 percent, taking the ACT score high enough to meet or exceed college readiness benchmarks. In science, it was 20 percent; math, 31 percent, and reading, 36 percent.
He and other administrators, however, remain confident improvements will continue based on curriculum changes that have or will be implemented as well as the district’s own data collection on individual students using multiple prep tests each year closely aligned with the ACT beginning with students’ freshman year.
Implemented two years ago, it is because of that testing, Smith said, that led to the district changing its math curriculum to ensure all students are taking the needed courses tested under the ACT. And by gauging individual progress, district officials can see where students are improving or not, as well as match student demographics, teachers, and other factors with those improvements.
Illinois State Board of Education spokeswoman Mary Ann Fergus said MVTHS changes are similar to those the state is seeking to implement, saying the lack of gauging individual student progress is a shortcoming in the NCLB law.
The multiple ACT prep-testing is one of several reforms being sought as the state seeks a waiver from NCLB testing in the future that remains pending with the U.S. Department of Education, according to the state education board.
The federal agency has called upon all states to implement new evaluations in 2014-15, but Illinois law calls for progressively phasing in its reforms for some districts as early as the current school year and for all districts by 2016-17, the ISBE said.
Those state standards are likely to become even more rigorous. For instance, testing among grade school students — administered through the ISAT test — will be more closely aligned with high school testing used to determine college readiness, meaning many of those scores will drop.
Also, the state is striving to establish common core standards as part of a 23-state consortium called the Partnership for Assessment for College and Careers that is developing tests to better measure students’ knowledge, skills and growth.
School districts, including MVTHS, are also members of the consortium, working to develop a common core curriculum so to create greater uniformity for what all students are expected to learn between the states.
Still, Fergus commended the district for showing improvement under NCLB.
“If this is a school that has shown improvement, that is something the state would want to recognize. I think the NCLB standards were intended to be realistic but the reality is they are no longer useful. ... We know this AYP label is not serving anyone. It is not driving improvement. It is not reflecting reality,” she said.