March 31, 2003 11:34 PM

Q-C schools still unclear on No Child Left Behind

By Robin J. Youngblood, Staff writer

More than a year after the federal No Child Left Behind Act was introduced, some local school administrators and teachers have questions about it.

The act details achievement guidelines for all school districts in the country. It mandates that all students meet their states' learning standards in reading and math by the 2013-14 school year, and spells out the consequences if they don't.

Those consequences could include allowing parents the option of transferring their children to other schools, state oversight of schools, or even state takeovers of schools.

Jay Marino, assistant superintendent of curriculum for the Rock Island-Milan School District, said school personnel still are trying to decipher the 1,200-page text of the federal act.

Mr. Marino said the main reasons NCLB is still confusing are the changing definition of ``adequate yearly progress,'' and lots of recent retirements in the Illinois State Board of Education offices.

The district isn't trying to blame anyone, he said. ``The ISBE is as frustrated as we are. ... Interpreting 1,200 pages is mind-boggling.''

Under NCLB, students' progress is measured by scores on standardized achievement tests selected by each state. Illinois currently uses the Illinois Standards Achievement Test for elementary and junior high students and the Prairie State Achievement Exam for high schoolers.

Schools must make ``adequate yearly progress'' toward the goal of all students meeting academic standards by the 2013-14 school year. The federal government wants the percentage of students meeting standards to rise equally each year, and Illinois wants to start slower -- gaining 2 to 5 percentage points each year, with later annual jumps of 6 to 7 percent.

Mr. Marino said Illinois' plan is still waiting for approval. In the meantime, ``it's hard to know what we're shooting for,'' he said.

Illinois currently requires at least 50 percent of a school's students to meet state learning standards, or the school goes on the early academic warning list.

Currently, four schools in the Rock Island-Milan school district, Westmer High School in Mercer County and United Township High School in East Moline are on the state's early academic-warning list. Grant Elementary in Rock Island is on the academic watch list because it hasn't made progress for the past two years.

Retirements at ISBE have added to the confusion over NCLB details. Mr. Marino said the district's two main contacts retired within two weeks of each other. New people have since been assigned to deal with the district's questions.

``The main problem is (determining) who is in charge of what,'' said John Flaherty, assistant regional superintendent for Rock Island County schools. ``With all the changes, they need to have a plan of who's doing what.''

UT superintendent Craig Whitlock said his district is going through the same problems as Rock Island because this is its first year on the warning list.

``We're on the very front of the whole process,'' he said. ``So far, the state board representative that we've had to deal with has been very responsive.''

Mr. Whitlock did say, however, that he would like the achievement guidelines to be more consistent. ``We never know what the targets are.''

Staff writer Robin Youngblood can be reached at (309) 786-6441, ext. 257, or by e-mail at