School remediation and probation were created by the original School Reform Act, with authority to take action vested in the subdistrict superintendents, and subdistrict councils. The May 1995 revisions to the Reform Act erased subdistricts from the law and gave the school system’s chief executive officer the power to place schools on remediation or probation. Here’s what the law says and how the current school administration has responded.

What are the criteria for putting schools on remediation?

Under the law, schools that have failed to develop or implement a school improvement plan.

These were the criteria used to place Curtis, Brown, Lewis, West Pullman and Tilton elementary schools and Austin High on remediation during the administration of Supt. Argie Johnson.

The administration of Chief Executive Officer Paul Vallas has taken a different tack, focusing almost exclusively on test scores. First, schools must be on the state’s “academic watch list,” which means that for three years in a row, at least 50 percent of their students failed to meet state standards on the Illinois Goals Assessment Program (IGAP) tests. The tests cover math, reading, writing, science and social studies. Second, schools’ scores must be declining rather than improvingùthough some exceptions have been made on this criterion.

What are the criteria for putting schools on probation?

Under the law, if it is determined that a school’s problems are not able to be remediated by the methods used under remediation than that school shall be placed on probation. The law is silent on whether a school must first go through remediation.

Again, the Vallas administration is focusing on test scores. Schools with less than 15 percent of students at or above national averages in math and reading on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (elementary schools) or the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (high schools) will be placed on probation. Other factors include declining and/or below-average attendance, rising and/or above-average dropout rates and whether a school is on the state’s academic watch list.

What does remediation mean for a school?

The law provides for developing a remediation plan to correct deficiencies; changes may include drafting a new school improvement plan, applying to the board for additional funding for local school council training, directing implementation of a school improvement plan or mediating disputes or other obstacles.

The Vallas administration has responded in three ways:

Intervention teams were sent to schools for a full day to identify strengths and weaknesses using the “Pathways to Achievement” framework for good schooling. (See Catalyst, November 1995.)

Team members interviewed every teacher, as well as ancillary staff and parents, says Phil Hansen, director of the Department of Intervention. One member shadowed a child for the day. In elementary schools, staff sat in on every classroom; in high schools, they tried to sit in on most.

They looked at minutes of instruction, teaching methods, whether lesson plans were aligned with state goals, whether lesson plans were followed and how special education and bilingual students were treated, among other things.

“It was very nuts and bolts,” says Hansen. “We even looked at things like whether enough time was being spent on reading and if the school day started on time. I’d been to some schools where they were saying the Pledge of Allegiance at 9:20 a.m.”

The team also reviewed the school improvement plan and budget, and checked for building cleanliness and security.

Schools were paired with outside educational organizations to work on curriculum and instruction. Their choices were: DePaul University School of Education (School Achievement Structure), DePaul University Center for Urban Education, the Erikson Institute, Malcolm X College (Direct Instruction), National-Louis University, Northeastern Illinois University and Roosevelt University. In some cases, schools and their partners were already working together.

Project managers, one for elementary schools and one for high schools, checked to see whether schools were acting on recommendations made by the intervention teams and examined schools’ relationships with their partners.

To assist schools, there also are project managers for special education, bilingual programs, local school councils and two specific remediation programs, Direct Instruction and the School Achievement Structure. For example, the special education manager helped one school get rid of a backlog of student evaluations.

What does probation mean for a school?

Under the law, principals and teachers can be dismissed by the central administration, new local school council elections can be ordered, schools can be shut down and reopened with new staff and programs or closed down.

Here’s how the Vallas administration intends to respond:

Probation project managers, each with about 12 schools, will troubleshoot, help schools make changes and serve as a go-between with the Office of Accountability.

Each high school will get a chief operating officer from the business community so that the principal can focus on education.

Three principal mentors, mainly retired educators, will be assigned to each region.

Schools will continue to work with outside education organizations; new partners will be lined up for about 25 schools currently without partners.

The new five-person Teacher Accountability Unit will help principals evaluate staff and staffing needs. “We’ll be looking at a lot of issues,” says Chief Accountability Officer Patricia Harvey. “If they tell us that a teacher is a bad apple, but they have always gotten satisfactory or excellent evaluations, we will want to know why.”

Who pays for what?

Last year, the Office of Accountability spent $5 million on remediation, not including staff salaries. This year, $2.5 million has been budgeted for both remediation and probation; schools have to foot half the tab for their external partners, up to $50,000. There is one exception: King High is picking up $70,000 of the $120,000 cost of Northeastern’s program, which is the most expensive.

How does a school get off remediation?

Raise test scores and get off the state’s academic watch list.

“We are telling schools, even if scores improve after one year, they will still be on because we want to make sure they really are going up and will stay up,” says Hansen. “So, we’ll look at this year’s IGAP scores and next year’s IGAP scores. Some determination will be made for schools to go off remediation after the spring of 1997.”

How does a school get off probation?

Raise test scores. Plus, convince the Office of Accountability that the school is functioning wel

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