Fischer doesn't meet state standards for second year

ELMHURST – Students at Conrad Fischer Elementary may be able to transfer to Jefferson Elementary for the upcoming school year based on preliminary performance data for School District 205.

Administrators are looking for other options.

"Families of Fischer will have the option to choose if they want to transfer to Jefferson," said Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Charles Johns.

The option referred to as "school choice" is part of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB). It allows students from schools that recieve Title I funding and do not make adequate yearly progress (AYP) for two years in a row the ability to transfer to a school within the district that does make AYP. Fischer is the only elementary school in the district that did not make AYP for two years.

For the past two years, 92.5 percent of students were required to meet or exceed state standards in order for the school to make AYP.

"It is important to note that next year's cut-off is 100 percent," said Johns.

Jefferson currently looks like the only elementary school in the district that will make AYP for the 2012-2013 school year based on unofficial data, but if 100 percent of Jefferson students, including those in special education, do not meet or exceed state standards next year, Jefferson won't make AYP.

If Jefferson does not make AYP next year, or if Fischer does make AYP next year, additional students will no longer be allowed to transfer and transportation for students that did transfer from Fischer will no longer be provided.

Transportation for students who transfer to Jefferson would be provided by $80,000 worth of the Title I funds that Fischer receives as long as Jefferson continues to make AYP and Fischer does not.

"This means that we'll have to take away from some of the programs that Ms. Bailey has already put together for our students," said Johns about Fischer's Principal, Jane Bailey.

At a recent Board of Education meeting this week, Johns said he expects the district to send a letter to parents of Fischer students in the next few weeks. Jefferson parents were also emailed about the possibility. Whether or not the official numbers say Jefferson did make AYP for 2012-2013, the district must notify Fischer parents of the school choice provision since Fischer is not expected to make AYP for the second year in a row.

If none of the elementary schools make AYP, students will not be allowed to transfer, but a letter will still go out explaining school choice. Johns aknowledged this could be confusing, but said the law requires parents are notified of the provision.

If the preliminary data is correct, however, parents will have thirty days from receipt of the letter to apply for transfer. Transfers are prioritized by perceived need. Students who are not meeting performance standards and receiving free or reduced lunches would take first priority.

"We only have performance data for fourth and fifth grade students," said Johns, explaining students do not take the Illinois State Achievement Test (ISAT) until third grade.

The most recent numbers suggest Jefferson could accept just over 80 more students given the building's capacity, but other factors like class size and the lack of performance data for students entering third grade or younger would impact how many students could be accepted at each grade level.

The district can also file an appeal with the state. Many states in the country already have received federal exemptions from NCLB requirements. The Illinois State Board of Education submitted a waiver application with the U.S. Department of Education in 2012, which Johns believes could be approved soon given recent comparisons to other states' successful applications.

"I anticipate we have a very good chance to get a waiver in the next couple of weeks," said Johns.

The entire school choice presentation is available at www.elmhurst205.org, the district's homepage.