Illinois fudges the rules for rating schools

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The change comes as Illinois school officials have publicly promoted more rigorous state tests, increasing the likelihood many schools would fail federal standards that require a certain percent of students to pass.

About 9 of 10 students had to pass the spring reading and math tests for a school to meet federal standards in 2013 — an unattainable benchmark for most schools — so districts were bracing for failure.

But unknown to many local officials, the Illinois State Board of Education revamped the complicated calculations used to determine whether schools pass or fail. This helped some grade schools and high schools meet standards and avoid sanctions under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, when they otherwise would have failed.

"That was really a gift," said Patrick Nolten, head of research and assessment in Indian Prairie School District 204, which serves parts of Naperville and Aurora. "The intention and purpose is to really allow schools and districts to show there has been positive change." Nolten said he's still reviewing his district's figures, but that it is "highly likely" some schools met the federal standard because of the changes.

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