- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

September 20, 2015

The (Decatur) Herald & Review

Move forward after bad report card

Like a student trying to prepare parents for a bad report card, Illinois Superintendent of Education Tony Smith has been saying the initial results from the PARCC tests would be less than ideal.

He wasn’t kidding.

The results from about 75 percent of the tests given last spring, paper tests and non-English examination results aren’t available yet, show that most students in Illinois schools don’t meet the new, tougher PARCC standards.

Smith warned against “bashing,” and he’s right. The controversial PARCC examinations are more difficult than past standardized tests. The new tests, however, are designed to more accurately reflect student achievement.

The results on the tests are divided into five levels: did not meet expectations, approached expectations, partially met expectations, met expectations and exceeded expectations.

In grades three through eight on the English portion of the test, 4.3 percent exceeded expectations, 31.7 percent met, 27.8 partially met, 21.7 percent approached and 14.5 percent did not meet expectations. In math, 3 percent exceeded, 26.2 percent met, 28.5 percent both partially met and approached and 14.5 percent did not meet expectations.

About 5 percent of high school students exceeded expectations in English; 26 percent met, 26 percent approached, 23 percent partially met and 20 percent did not meet. In math, 0 percent exceeded expectations, 17 percent met, 24 percent approached, 37 percent partially met and 22 percent did not meet.

The test results are incomplete and that the breakdown by school districts and other breakdowns aren’t yet available. It’s also not wise to compare these results with the ISAT and PSAE tests given in the past.

The PARCC tests have sparked controversy in almost every one of the 11 states where they’ve been used. Hundreds of parents in Illinois held their students out of the tests and many educators complained that completing the test was a lengthy process for students.

Without bashing anyone, the results are dismal. Even factoring in that the tests may have been a technological challenge and a natural inclination by some students to be less than diligent during standardized testing, this is not a good report card.

At the same time, the tests can be a valuable tool if they more accurately reflect the level of student achievement. It’s also worth a reminder that while standardized tests are one measure of success, the tests shouldn’t be the only measure.

So, while no one should brush off the results as insignificant, it’s also important to put the results into perspective. Like parents looking over a bad report card, placing blame isn’t the path to better results. It’s much better to focus on how to improve in the future.

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September 20, 2015

The (Joliet) Herald-News

Revive art of compromise

“The Civil War,” documentarian Ken Burns’ 25-year-old masterpiece, returned this week for an anniversary encore showing on PBS.

It is fitting that the Public Broadcasting Service chose to air the ground-breaking documentary during the 150th anniversary of the conflict’s end. The first episode, which aired Monday, included an interview with the late historian and author Shelby Foote, who commented on what started a war that claimed hundreds of thousands of lives.

“It was because we failed to do the thing we really have a genius for, which is compromise,” Foote said.

He added, “Our whole government’s founded on it (compromise). And it failed.”

Compromise (noun): An agreement or a settlement of a dispute that is reached by each side making concessions, according to the dictionary definition.

In 2015, we have many disputes over what government should do to solve national and state problems.

President Barack Obama and leaders of Congress disagree on almost everything. Gov. Bruce Rauner and the Illinois General Assembly leadership aren’t much better. Their intransigence has done our gridlocked state and nation little good.

Elected leaders swore to serve the public to the best of their abilities. Somewhere along the way, they must have learned the art of compromise.

It’s time to revive that skill, meet each other toward the middle, reach important agreements, and move forward.

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September 20, 2015

The (Champaign) News-Gazette

Political standoff comes at big cost

There’s a lot more at stake in the current state budget impasse than meets the eye.

Champaign schools officials are cringing in anticipation of a legislative decision to rewrite the state’s school aid formula.

Meanwhile, their counterparts in Urbana, Rantoul and Danville are licking their chops.

Champaign is fearful because it stands to lose state school aid dollars under tentative plans to increase aid to school districts that need it the most. The other three districts stand to gain because their property tax bases are not nearly as strong as the one in Champaign.

How much they would lose or gain is a matter of speculation because the legislation is still in its infancy. Further, action on this important issue is stuck in a legislative traffic jam because of the current budget impasse between Gov. Bruce Rauner and Democratic legislative leaders, principally House Speaker Michael Madigan.

“Many good and necessary things that need to be done - one of them being school-funding changes - are paralyzed as a result of the budget standoff,” said state Sen. Jason Barickman, a Bloomington Republican.

Barickman is working with Democratic state Sen. Andy Manar of Bunker Hill on the issue. They will be together in Bloomington on Monday to discuss the issue with the P-20 Council, state education leaders who represent pre-school through higher education.

Manar said he expects a warm welcome because “there is near-universal agreement that we need to change the status quo,” even though there is not unanimity about how specifically to do so.

But all the talk is just so much hot air unless and until Rauner and Democratic leaders find common ground on the budget.

So chalk up school finance reform as another victim of the state’s inability to put its financial house in order.

It only makes sense, of course. How can elected officials in Illinois credibly rewrite the K-12 education funding formula when that issue is just one of many that will be directly affected by the ultimate settlement of the budget dispute.

That, of course, assumes that Gov. Rauner and Madigan will be forced at some point to reach a give-and-take settlement of their issues. Right now, Madigan is waiting for Rauner to capitulate and agree to tax hikes that will generate sufficient revenue to ease or eliminate a multibillion deficit for the fiscal year that began July 1.

Rauner has indicated he’s willing to discuss tax increases if Madigan will meet him halfway on other issues that he considers crucial to reviving Illinois’ economy. So far, Madigan has refused.

There are no signs of when this standoff will end, although there has been speculation that a settlement could be reached as soon as December, after the filing deadline has expired, or as late as February or March.

It has been 20 years since legislators last wrote the state’s school aid formula. It’s so old and outdated; just 44 cents out of every school aid dollar is allocated based on need. Other funding categories - e.g., special education and transportation - dispense aid based on need issues, but Chicago schools get first dibs on that money, leaving less-wealthy school districts elsewhere out in the cold.

Under Manar’s approach - SB 1 - 90 cents of every aid dollar would be allocated based on need.

It’s understandable that districts with stronger property tax bases, like Champaign, do not want to lose state aid dollars. But it’s impossible to argue with the concept that the schools with the greatest financial need should receive more state aid while wealthier districts should receive less.

That, after all, is the point of state aid for education.

But political realities require minimizing how much wealthier districts will lose. Otherwise, legislators who represent those districts will block change.

It will require bipartisan discussion and debate to help those most in need while minimizing the financial pain to those least in need.

It’s serious business. But Illinois can’t do this serious business until the current budget impasse is over.

Democrats blame the Republicans. Republicans blame the Democrats. They’re both right, but that’s not what matters.

Rauner has indicated he’s willing to talk turkey if Madigan will join him. It’s way past time to get it done in a way that serves the broad public interest of the sinking ship known as Illinois.

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