The Illinois State Board of Education is your best source to
start your own research on your local schools
I keep my kids' brains active over the summer to avoid summer
slump. They read every day and I give math worksheets. My daughter
also writes to a pen pal and every Monday is Science Day where we
do an experiment together.
Nicole Foster, Chicago
We have "homework" each day after camp with fun age appropriate
workbooks. Kiddo feels confident and stays in the habit of
learning. Plus it provides downtime from hot outdoor
Pamela Gonzalez, Chicago
Even though the kids are on vacation, keep them busy still with
writing and number activities so that they can keep up the habit of
doing "school" work.
Maria Araque, Chicago
We play school. We read, write and do math.
Jacki Tonyan, Trevor, Wis.
Susan Waynick's two sons excelled at their neighborhood school
where positive experiences with teachers were the norm and she
captained the PTA.
Then the school, Richmond Elementary School in St. Charles, missed
the mark on test scores and was deemed failing for not making
Adequate Yearly Progress, as set by federal No Child Left Behind
When it failed in consecutive years, Waynick and other families
had a choice: Stay or move to a school that wasn't failing. While
some parents opted to switch schools, the Waynick family
"His needs were being met," Waynick says about her younger son.
"At the end of the day, you have to do what's best for your
Giving all children the best shot at a good education is what NCLB
set out to do after it became law a decade ago during the Bush
Administration. It created a new system to measure school
performance, while raising the bar gradually to ensure a greater
number of students were hitting the mark.
By the 2013-14 school year, every school in Illinois will be
expected to have all of its students meeting or exceeding minimum
Illinois Learning Standards.
Yet, so far, more and more schools are failing.
In Illinois, where 2,548 schools failed to make AYP in the 2010-11
school year, state education officials sought a waiver to, among
other things, establish a new learning standard and a better
process for assessing student success. The goal: To reduce by half
the percentage of all students not making the grade.
"The unrealistic and punitive aspects of NCLB have made it
counterproductive. Every year that NCLB moves forward with its
unattainable goals more schools are deemed to be failing, so much
so that this year only eight high schools in Illinois were deemed
to have made 'adequate progress,'" ISBE officials stated in an
explanation for seeking a waiver.
The changing education landscape in Illinois is tied to the roll
out of Common Core curriculum, new tests which will focus more on
applying knowledge instead of recitation of information and
multiple methods to assess success and shrink achievement gaps,
according to State Board of Education spokesman Matt Vanover.
As a transitional period emerges on the horizon, the legacy of
testing and school choice remain two of the most important parts of
the NCLB decade for parents.
The number most often talked about, and the one parents typically
have been left to use for understanding the big picture at their
school, has been adequate yearly progress. It is the percentage of
students taking the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests at
different grade levels who are meeting or exceeding state
standards. The AYP target has risen from 40 percent in 2003 to 92.5
The 100 percent AYP goal has been maligned for years as an
unattainable target, but districts and schools continued to work
toward improved test scores and making AYP gains, even if in
The side effect was the idea of "high-stakes testing" and claims
that educators were simply teaching to the test, according to
Northern Illinois University professor J.D. Bowers, who oversees
the school's teacher certification program.
"We ended up with an overemphasis on tests," Bowers says.
AYP numbers might be good for bragging rights if your school is
beating the target, but aren't a strong measurement for what's
happening in a school, Bowers says.
With the number of schools missing AYP increasing every year since
the 2005-06 school year, more and more schools are now considered
failing. Bowers doesn't think that should necessarily discourage
"Good things are happening in schools with bad numbers," he
Waynick says test scores don't tell the whole story. She
acknowledges Richmond was labeled by some when it became the lone
failing school in a generally well-to-do suburb with a strong
school district. Richmond has the district's most diverse mix of
students, she says.
"If you walk the halls of Richmond, it's anything but failing.
It's a place where children are celebrated," she says.
Still, if the numbers don't hit AYP targets in two consecutive
years, students can change schools. In 2010-11, nearly 650,000
students statewide were eligible to change schools (compared to
about 115,000 in 2005-06).
School choice: A tale of two decisions
Despite it being a relatively quick decision for Waynick's family
to stick with Richmond Elementary School, she understood the wide
range of opinions and outcomes surrounding school choice.
She recalls a PTA meeting in her living room where the issue was
discussed. A good history at Richmond meant one thing to Waynick,
but she also hoped to see the school "turn it around."
Julie Wright, a single mother with two sons in Rolling Meadows,
was less optimistic when she noticed her boys' differing
experiences going through the same grade school at two different
times. Her older son, Brendan, excelled at Kimball Hill Elementary
School and moved on to advance placement classes for fifth and
sixth grade at Central Road School.
Wright initially resisted moving Brendan to Central Road a couple
of year earlier because she wanted him to keep friends and avoid
uprooting him too early.
Wright's younger son, Jacob, mirrors his brother very closely in
their academic prowess, Wright says. He tested well while at
Kimball Hill and was on track for advance placement at Central
"By the third grade, I started noticing things going downhill,"
Wright says, referring to academics and social factors. "Jacob's
test scores started to drop, significantly in the language
Wright soon learned Kimball Hill was failing. She was all for
moving Jacob to another school for fourth grade in 2011-12.
"It has been an absolutely wonderful move all around. No
Bowers questions what school choice has really accomplished when,
in some instances, no alternatives are available for students in
failing schools. Other education officials point out that many
times the students opting to leave a failing school are not the
ones most in need of help.
So, what's a parent to do?
Bowers thinks it's something they should be doing no matter their
school situation-be involved. He puts high value on the amount of
time parents invest in their child's education, everything from
emailing teachers and principals to reading together at home.
"A parent can compensate for their child's teacher's weaknesses,"
Bowers believes parents need to look beyond their child's
classroom to have an overall perspective on the school, such as
learning about teachers in higher grade levels who are likely to
instruct your student. Parents also should talk with each other to
round out perspectives on what's happening.
New standards, testing changes
The next chapter for students and parents in Illinois begins
with the full implementation of Common Core standards in all
Illinois joins more than 40 other states adopting the new
guidelines driven by the ultimate goal of crafting college- and
career-ready students, according to Vanover.
Common Core not only replaces the Illinois Learning Standards, put
in place in 1997, but raises the bar on what students must
That means new tests, ones focused on applying knowledge instead
of reciting information, will arrive for the 2014-15 school year.
Additionally, the state is expected to raise the "cut score"-the
passing mark-on ISATs.
Bowers finds Common Core, just like NCLB, to have the right idea
at its heart-providing a good education to all-yet isn't a fan of
trying to put every student on the same page at the same time.
"We all want them to be on a level playing field," Bowers says,
"(but) intellectually, and maturity wise, we all develop
differently. Common Core should not be the lowest common
Overall, Bowers is unsure what will improve under Common Core
because the mechanism of testing will remain the same. The current
testing structure has led some schools to fail solely because of
poor performance by sub-groups-such as special needs or low-income
students, or those who do not speak English as their primary
While a lot of focus will be put on new curriculum and testing,
Vanover suggests there's a lot more to look at.
Among the highlights, Vanover points to a technology-based pilot
project that uses an app store-like program to give students
greater access to specific information tied to their classroom
Also, student achievement and test scores will play a greater role
in teacher evaluations.
Only time will tell the impact on Illinois schools and their
Dan Campana is a freelance writer and dad living in
Dan Campana is a dad and freelance writer living in Streamwood.
See more of Dan's stories here.
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