Saturday, Dec. 18


State Board of Education releases
2003-2004 State Report Card    
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More schools and districts meet No Child Left Behind requirements this year

State superintendent calls for reform of federal No Child Left Behind law

[DEC. 18, 2004]  SPRINGFIELD -- More Illinois schools and districts met the standards of the No Child Left Behind law last year than the year before. Interim State Superintendent of Education Randy Dunn announced the improvement on Wednesday at the release of the Illinois State Report Card for the 2003-2004 school year. In 2003-2004, 133 more schools and 110 more districts met annual progress requirements under No Child Left Behind.

"We are encouraged by Illinois' results this year and know that the hard work of educators and students is paying off," Dunn said. "We praise Illinois teachers and schools for their commitment, and we pledge to help them continue this growth and improvement."

But while the hard work of Illinois educators paid off, Dunn said that changes are needed to the No Child Left Behind law to ensure that it is truly measuring the progress of all students. In 2003-2004, 235 school districts, or 69 percent, of Illinois districts that were labeled as not meeting standards failed to meet the yearly progress requirements solely because of how the federal law requires states to measure outcomes for students with Individual Education Plans and limited English proficiency. Dunn said that there are significant problems with the way the law measures the performances of those students.

"Special education and bilingual students have unique needs," Dunn said. "Labeling them as a subgroup and setting an arbitrary target ignores those needs and flies in the face of common sense. It is unfair to these kids, their teachers and their communities." He further noted that bilingual students who perform at a high enough level are removed from their bilingual student subgroup, creating a ceiling on the amount of progress the subgroup can ever show under the No Child Left Behind law.

Dunn also challenged districts to address the concern that more needs to be done for special education and bilingual students and to ensure that improper assumptions about students with disabilities are not being made. Dunn noted that although the measurement tools used by the law are imperfect, districts must still ensure that special education students are making progress.

He encouraged federal lawmakers to consider measuring academic progress for special education and bilingual students, instead of looking solely at their performance on statewide tests; and he argued that districts should be allowed broader latitude to offer accommodated tests as part of the Individual Education Plans required for all special education students according to the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act.

"Districts must be held accountable for the services they provide to special education students, but No Child Left Behind is not accurately measuring what they're accomplishing," Dunn said.

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"As we looked at this year's results, it really highlighted a problem with NCLB," he said. "NCLB has created a situation where some good schools are inappropriately labeled as failing. To truly measure how well our schools are serving IEP and LEP students, we should be measuring the progress those students are making on an individual basis. Educators are working hard, students are working hard, and it's discouraging for them to be labeled as failing when they're achieving good progress."

This year's State Report Cards were released with accurate data six months earlier than in the previous testing cycle. The Illinois State Board of Education worked closely with local districts to correct data errors affecting more than half the state's schools in preparation for distribution of the 2003-2004 reports.

The data correction process began in September, less than one week after Dunn was appointed by the new State Board of Education. After appointing seven new members to the board, Gov. Blagojevich charged the board and Dunn with improving the way the agency works with local districts. Days later Dunn launched an aggressive effort to finalize School Report Card data, reopening the data correction period so that schools and agency staff could work together to correct errors.

These efforts prevented many schools from being incorrectly labeled as not meeting the yearly progress requirements. The new state board provided correct data to schools in mid-November of the testing year. In comparison, four schools did not receive 2002-2003 corrected No Child Left Behind data until June of 2004, a full 16 months after the testing.

Responding to a call from the governor to improve next year's State Report Card process, the state board has already begun work on plans to improve responsiveness to schools and increase agency accountability for data accuracy throughout the process. The agency will also make changes to the timeline so that schools have their final data much sooner and can distribute their reports much earlier in the year. In addition, the state board has begun efforts to work with the Illinois Parent Teacher Association and other groups to redesign the reports so they are more "parent-friendly."

The 2004 Illinois State Report Card is available at

[Illinois State Board of Education news release]

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