For the fourth year in a row, Forest Park District 91 schools did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), an annual benchmark of academic achievement set by the state, in accordance with the federal government’s No Child Left Behind Act of 2002.

According to data from annual report cards recently released by the Illinois State Board of Education, D91’s students scored 75.1 percent on reading, and 78.6 percent on mathematics portions of the Illinois Standard Achievement Tests (ISAT). Data from those tests is used to determine whether students are meeting AYP. The percentage of those required to meet or exceed state standards has increased each year since No Child Left Behind was rolled out. The goal is to increase student achievement by raising the bar for AYP scores each year.

This year in Illinois, the minimum target is 85 percent, but, according to No Child Left Behind, that benchmark will be 100 percent by the 2013-14 school year. Put another way, students of all proficiencies – advanced learners, students with developmental disabilities, kids with language barriers – will need almost perfect scores if the district is to meet AYP. (A small exception to this is that subgroups of students who have a history of achievement issues can meet AYP without a 100-percent score, if there is a 10-percent drop in the number of students in the subgroup who didn’t meet the mark the previous year.)

The 100-percent target is just not realistic, according to D91 Superintendent Lou Cavallo, because few, if any schools, will be able to meet these near-perfect benchmarks.

He said he’s adamant about progress and paying closer attention to subgroups of students that require additional help to boost achievement, but the current AYP formula “just doesn’t work.” 

Cavallo added that it’s ridiculous to assume that students with, say, severe developmental disabilities are going to be able to get the scores that will eventually be necessary for D91 to meet AYP, under the increasing benchmarks.

Basically, a school or district that, overall, meets all of its achievement levels, will not meet AYP if one subgroup of students – a group of at least 45 kids who may have had achievement problems in the past – does not meet AYP.

In 2005, for example, D91 did not meet AYP, even though, overall, its students scored roughly 15 percentage points higher than the year’s minimum benchmark target for math (61.7 percent) and reading (61.4 percent). That year the minimum target was 47.5 percent. Three subgroups in the district scored above the target as well. D91 didn’t meet overall AYP, though, because students with disabilities had scores that did not reach an exemption target.

Another issue is that schools that do not reach AYP two years in a row can be penalized. Repercussions include having to pay to send a student to another school district and to hire outside companies to offer tutoring, something Cavallo said D91 “teachers can already do.”

 The last time D91 met AYP standards was 2007. This year, and, really, for many of the previous years, students were close to the AYP target, even though they didn’t make it.

D91 has only made AYP twice, since the state board of education began reporting the benchmarks on the 2004 annual report card, as directed by No Child Left Behind. But since the federal law went into effect, the district’s ISAT scores in math and reading have increased nearly every year – the stated point of the legislation. The 2004 report card scores were in the low 50s and 60s; they have since risen over 20 percentage points.

The state board of education is currently working on a number of possible plans that might allow schools in Illinois some flexibility around the upcoming AYP requirements, said Mary Fergus, spokesperson for the state board of education. Details are not currently available though.

“How the state measures or determines adequate yearly progress will likely be one of those issues,” Fergus said.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Education also said that Congress is reviewing No Child Left Behind.

“That’s basically been the issue with states throughout the whole life of the law,” the spokesperson said. “There needs to be various changes.”

 Cavallo said he would like to see a system that measures students’ progress more than once a year.