Illinois State Board approves NCLB waiver application

Illinois proposes comprehensive accountability system
that uses multiple measures and moves forward
with college and career ready standards


SPRINGFIELD, IL —The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) approved a comprehensive waiver application to the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) that proposes using multiple measures to evaluate the nearly 4,000 public schools in Illinois. The overarching goal of the waiver is to cut in half achievement gaps and the percent of students not making progress by 2018. The Board’s plan, due to the U.S. Department of Education Feb. 28, replaces the outdated one-size-fits-all approach of NCLB with a new system that stresses high expectations of students and schools, as well as statewide support, innovation and flexibility to reach benchmarks.

“Under this waiver, Illinois will move forward with a comprehensive accountability system that uses multiple measures of gauging student performance to ensure college and career readiness,” said State Superintendent of Education Christopher A. Koch. “This new system will emphasize student progress over time to better drive instruction and track educational effectiveness.”

The plan calls for the use of a Multiple Measures Index based on four broad categories;

1) Outcomes, including graduation rates;

2) Achievement in math, reading and science;

3) Student progress, including growth and English Language proficiency and;

4) Educational context, such as school climate and course offerings, will be used as a bonus category.

Upon calculation of the Multiple Measures Index, schools and districts will be categorized into a five-star rating system that will align with various rewards, supports and interventions.

“This marks a watershed change in education,” said State Board of Education Chairman Gery J. Chico. “This is a much more common sense approach to setting high expectations, measuring student progress and holding schools accountable for the performance of their students. We believe this change is a better way to inspire student achievement for our more than 2 million public school students and better prepare them to compete with their peers across the globe.”

Some proposed changes to the federal accountability system include:


  • All eighth- and ninth-graders in public schools will be required for the first time ever to take the ACT-aligned exam “EXPLORE” and 10th-graders will take the corresponding exam “PLAN” as part of a testing system that includes the ACT, already part of the Illinois Prairie State Achievement Exam (PSAE) in the 11th grade. EXPLORE and PLAN, produced by ACT, tests students on English, Math, Reading and Science and are now administered by some districts on a voluntary basis to provide more complete information about college and career readiness.


  • Beginning in 2013, grade 11 students will take a third Workkeys assessment that can help students earn a Career Readiness Certificate confirming employability skills.


  • Illinois will raise cut scores for the 2013 administration of the ISAT to better gauge college and career-readiness and be better aligned to the college and career ready standards of the PSAE.


  • Value Table Growth Models will be used in 2013 to calculate student growth in grades 3 through 11, based on two years of performance, and award value points that are used to develop a school’s average growth.


  • Science scores on the ISAT in 4th and 7th grade and the PSAE in 11th grade will be used for school and district accountability.


  • Individual targets will be set for each school, district and ESEA subgroup with the goal of reducing in half achievement gaps and the percentage of students not making progress within six years.
  • Subgroups will be reduced from the current size of 45 to 30 to ensure better tracking of student progress and achievement.

To increase the agency’s capacity to meet the needs of all schools and districts in need of improvement, Illinois’ plan calls for establishing the Center for School Improvement to provide coordination and coherence to school improvement services. Districts and schools will undergo a comprehensive audit to identify areas for improvement and develop a strong intervention plan. Identified interventions will be based on the specific needs identified, rather than a one-size-fit-all mandated intervention.

Illinois’ application also describes on-going reforms to raise educational rigor for students and educators, including the state’s 2010 adoption of new, more rigorous K-12 Common Core Learning standards in math and English Language Arts. Those college and career-ready standards are being implemented across the state and will be aligned to a new assessment in 2014-15.

Additionally, Illinois passed landmark principal and teacher evaluation legislation that calls for more thorough evaluations that for the first time will tie student growth to teachers and principals beginning next year and gradually spreading to all districts by 2016. At the same time, the state has dramatically overhauled policies regarding teacher and principal preparation programs to emphasize clearer and higher standards.

Since last fall when the U.S. Department of Education invited states to seek waivers to portions of NCLB, the ISBE conducted a survey and convened 27 meetings across the state to solicit ideas and feedback on the state’s waiver proposal. Through these efforts, more than 1,500 individuals and multiple education and civil rights groups have provided input and support for the application.

Nationally, 10 states have received NCLB waivers to date from the U.S. Department of Education. Illinois expects to receive notification in spring 2012.