Ptacek weighs in on NCLB waiver

By Jim McCabe on April 23 at 7:48am

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Now that Illinois has received a waiver from participation in the No Child Left Behind program, what does that mean for West Central Illinois school districts?

Signed into law in 2002, No Child Left Behind requires District 117 to administer standardized tests annually to students. The Prairie State Achievement Exam and the Illinois Standards Achievement Test are taken by high school juniors and grade schoolers, respectively.

The waiver will let the state look at measures beyond test scores in determining whether schools are succeeding or failing, but District 117 Superintendent Steve Ptacek indicates with the implementation of the new PARCC test sputtering, he’s not sure what Illinois has planned.

“I was a little shocked that the waiver came in. I thought the feds were going to want the state to have an explanation of what we’re going to do now, and at this point in time, we don’t know what we’re going to do now,” says Ptacek.

“It’s a wait and see for the aspects of No Child Left Behind that we were forced to have to fulfill the requirements, but the main part of No Child Left Behind being around school improvement based upon an analysis of data- we are going to continue to do, regardless of the requirements for No Child Left Behind because that is simply the best practice for school improvement,” he continues.

District 117 did not meet the Adequate Yearly Progress specifications of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2013 in math or reading. According to the state’s report card, the district was identified for District Improvement, according to AYP.

The district was in the second year of “Corrective Action” status this past school year.

Three of District 117’s six Title I-funded schools are in Federal Improvement Status, with one of them- Lincoln- having reached that status for three years in a row. Lincoln’s now a choice school as a result and has had to develop an improvement plan. The other two schools are Washington and North.

Ptacek says he believes all students- given proper instruction- can meet the learning goals and objectives District 117 sets.

“The continuous highlighting of student differences can oftentimes result in schools looking for excuses as to why their students aren’t performing, and as an educator, that is something that I find troubling,” says Ptacek.

“The schools you mentioned happened to have more of an at-risk demographic population than the other schools that you did not mention. That is the reality we face as educators, and that means that we have to design plans that give the extra support necessary to give those students an equal education.”

Ptacek explains that District 117 is focused on a research-based model that includes expansion of the Response to Intervention program for all schools in both math and reading.

No Child Left Behind has been controversial in the decade-plus it’s been around, and criticisms against it included that it set unrealistic goals. Ptacek, though, says it brought a new mindset to schools that he supported.

“Schools have been in the last 14 years talking about student data, analysis of student data and school improvement, and I think that’s what No Child Left Behind will ultimately be known for,” he says. “I don’t want the pursuit and the achievement of the waiver to be an indication that the schools in the state now are going to take school improvement less seriously.”

NCLB indicated schools should be 100 percent efficient by 2014 in both reading and math. Ptacek indicated in November that only four districts in Illinois met AYP last year.

More than 40 states and the District of Columbia have also been granted waivers.