New school standards have educators excited



SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP)—Illinois is switching to a new standard for measuring its schools success: How well are they teaching children? Sounds simple, but educators described it as both complicated and exciting Monday.

Illinois traditionally judges schools by objective criteria that have little to do with what’s happening in the classroom. Schools are accredited if they meet fire codes and offer the proper courses, regardless of whether students are learning.

But the Legislature voted two years ago to give the State Board of Education new power to measure schools’ performance and penalize those not measuring up.

The rules for that process could be finished by January or February, said Ray Schaljo, assistant to the state board’s associate superintendent. School ratings could begin flowing out soon after that.

‘‘It’s an expanded accreditation system to look at both what’s going into the system and what’s coming out,’‘ Schaljo said. ‘‘We’re beginning to move into a quality arena, rather than just a yes-no verification system.’‘

The state board has begun talking to schools about the new standards already. Officials visited 640 schools last year and expect to do the same this year. All 4,000 schools might be evaluated by the 1995-96 school term.

They visited the Mascoutah school district last October. Superintendent Victor Van Dyne said he doesn’t foresee the new system changing the way the district, about 25 miles east of St. Louis, runs its classrooms.

He said the district will focus this winter on documenting its students demographic traits and their needs. That may reveal some weaknesses, but it is more likely to prove the district already offers the needed programs, Van Dyne said.

But even if the Mascoutah schools change little, he sees the new standards as valuable.

‘‘I think this has more relationship to what is actually going on in the classroom,’‘ Van Dyne said.

He and other educators said the standards should make individual teachers and administrators feel more responsible for improving their schools. Schools already are planning changes in when they offer specific subjects or how they link lessons so that different classes reinforce the information.

In addition to being measured by their buildings and course offerings, schools will be measured by standardized statewide tests and progress in meeting student needs. That includes setting goals at the local level, deciding how to measure progress, analyzing the information and then sharing the conclusions with local taxpayers, Schaljo said.

‘‘We’re moving almost from a system of inspection to one of introspection,’‘ he said.

Schools initially placed on an ‘‘academic watch list’‘ will be evaluated again after two years and then, if needed, two years later. If they still haven’t made progress, state officials can order changes and ultimately close the school.

The state also can reward good schools, although the rewards haven’t been decided yet. Schaljo said they may include public honors for good schools and the chance to share their work with other schools.