Failing marks force area schools to restructure

By Alissa Groeninger

Fear of not meeting the No Child Left Behind Act’s standards for the 2006-2007 school year has forced the Urbana School District 116 to put together a mandatory restructuring plan with hopes of meeting the act’s adequate yearly progress, or AYP, requirement in years to come.

Once a school district fails to meet the AYP benchmarks established by the act in reading and mathematics for the fifth consecutive year, the district must come up with a plan based on federal and state laws to restructure programming and monitoring thereof, said Don Owen, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Urbana district.

AYP is based on a set percentage of students who must pass the standardized test students must take once a year. Urbana High School failed to meet the AYP standards in both reading and mathematics and subsequently submitted an improvement plan to the state, according to the school’s 2007 report card.

Urbana’s restructuring goal seeks to monitor the district’s improvement plan, Owen said. There were three main parts to the plan; however the Urbana School Board did not pass one part, which was created by a restructuring plan committee, he said. The committee was composed of district administrators, school administrators, teachers, University faculty and Urbana board members.

The first element of the restructuring plan will restructure the school day. Students will spend more time working with teachers who are trained in the subject matter the student is studying. For example, English teachers will spend more time tutoring students on English-based material. This will allow for more monitoring of student progress because teachers will be spending more time with students.

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    The second part of the restructuring plan is the creation of a special practices inventory, which will put data together to give teachers and administrators feedback. Other schools in the area can team up with Urbana High School and use the inventory and provide one another with feedback. The regional and district offices can also use the tool to give feedback to Urbana’s schools.

    A new position, director of student achievement and accountability, was also created to evaluate and oversee all No Child Left Behind programs and monitor how the schools are doing. The director would recommend programs that help prepare the district for testing and academic success and can give feedback about which programs need work.

    “(The director) would be in charge of continuous school improvement,” Owen said.

    The plan was sent to the Illinois State Board of Education without the position. If it passes, it will include the special practices inventory and the restructuring of the school day, said Mark Netter, Urbana School Board president. If the State Board or the regional offices do not approve of the plan, the restructuring plan committee will have to develop another option.

    However, this position did not pass the Urbana School Board vote. On March 15, the Board voted to approve the restructuring plan without the Director of Student achievement and accountability.

    Owen said he believes that the Urbana School District is not alone in the struggle to meet the No Child Left Behind standards.

    “It’s actually very common if you take a look at other schools our size and with our diversity (to not meet AYP),” Owen said.

    He said larger, diverse schools often have trouble meeting AYP because there are so many aspects to the federally mandated test. Urbana High School failed to meet these requirements for different reasons over the course of the past five years; one of the issues included students of a low socio-economic background struggling with math, Owen added.

    The high school test differs from the test given to middle and elementary school students because it tests reading, math, writing and science, he said. The test given to the younger grades only tests reading and math.

    Owen said this difference, as well as lower attendance rates in the high school, have contributed to the high school being the only school in the district to not meet AYP five years in a row, therefore causing the district to fail.

    Owen and Netter both said the plan was designed with more than No Child Left Behind in mind. The committee’s goal is to improve the education of all students.

    “We want all of our students to perform as well as they can academically and socially,” Netter said.

    The hope is for the restructuring plan to help the school meet the No Child Left Behind standards and to better all academic areas of the school, Owen said.

    “(No Child Left Behind) takes a look at closing the achievement gaps between minority groups and majority groups,” he said.

    The Champaign Unit 4 School District is not facing the restructuring that the Urbana District is. However, it is familiar with the struggles in meeting No Child Left Behind.

    Both Owen and Judy Wiegand, director of secondary education for the Champaign district, stressed the difficulty in meeting the standards of act.

    Centennial High School only met AYP during the 2003-2004 school year, and Champaign Central High School achieved AYP only during the 2005-2006 school year. However, if either school does not meet this year’s benchmark of 62.5 percent of students AYP, the district will have to create a restructuring plan.

    Wiegand said both schools have a good chance of meeting the No Child Left Behind Act standards.

    “Our high school principals, teachers and curriculum coordinators had real laser-like focus in doing what they can to help students prepare for this exam,” Wiegand said.