Illinois Schools Push Back On New ‘Underperforming’ And ‘Lowest Performing’ State Labels | WBEZ
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Illinois Schools Push Back On New ‘Underperforming’ And ‘Lowest Performing’ State Labels

This week for the first time, Illinois is issuing every public school in the state one of four designations: exemplary, commendable, underperforming, or lowest performing.

Hundreds of schools will be assigned those bottom two ratings of “underperforming” or “lowest performing.” But state education officials stress that the new labels aren’t a punishment, and struggling schools will get access to resources and extra help to improve.

“I can’t say strongly enough, this is not No Child Left Behind. This is not blame, shame, and punish,” Ralph Grimm, acting chief education officer for the Illinois State Board of Education, told local school leaders last week in west suburban Melrose Park.

Grimm and other top ISBE officials have been on a statewide tour to discuss ISBE’s release of new school report cards, the first to come out under Illinois’ version of the new federal education law that replaces No Child Left Behind.

But a number of school leaders at the meeting pushed back, in particular against the “underperforming” designation. Schools earn that rating if any group of students within their school — for instance, special education students, low-income students, or white students —  scores at the performance level of the bottom 5 percent of schools statewide.

“If we’re trying to attract teachers to our schools that have the most need, calling a school ‘underperforming’ or ‘lowest performing’ is not the way to do it,” said Jennifer Ban, assistant superintendent of teaching and learning in Pleasantdale School District 107 in Burr Ridge. Ban said none of her schools were given the “underperforming” designation, “but I’m speaking for all of us.”

“I would encourage that we ... stop doing this to schools,” said Ban. “We just can’t do this anymore. That’s what the realtors see, that’s what the board sees. And that’s what it is.”

State officials say they’re trying to hold schools responsible for how well all their students do.

Linda Lutton covers education for WBEZ. Follow her at @WBEZeducation or @lindalutton.

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