ISBE to submit waiver report to the General Assembly

April 19, 2001

(217) 782-4648 or 312/814-1486

Springfield – The Illinois State Board of Education today denied one school district’s request for modification of a state law and authorized the State Superintendent to forward to the General Assembly the semi-annual Waiver Report.  That report includes recommendations to lawmakers for specific action on 19 of 92 waiver requests received during the last six months.

The State Board denied Rockford School District 205’s petition to modify the School Code to use Reading Improvement Block Grant funds in grades 7 through 12. State law requires the money be used to support reading programs in kindergarten through grade 6. This is the first State Board denial of a statutory modification request since the waiver and modification law was passed.  Board policy delegates authority to the State Superintendent to act on modification requests that are considered approvable, but requires Board-level consideration before such a request can be denied.

The Waiver Report, which is due by May 1, recommends that the legislature:

·        Deny Antioch Community High School District 117’s proposal that it be allowed to administer an assessment other than the Prairie State Achievement Exam  (PSAE) for the next five years; and

·        Limit 18 of the 19 physical education waiver requests to a maximum of two years, or through the 2002–2003 school year.  (The remaining physical education waiver request was for only one year.)

The Rockford petition was submitted as part of the district’s new plan for intensive reading support throughout all grades. A district representative who spoke to the Board on behalf of the petition noted that other funds, such as Title I, are available to supplement the state Reading Improvement Grant in the lower grades. The district said that if the petition was granted it could still meet the needs of K–6 students while reallocating some of the state grant funds to address serious reading problems of upper-grade students.

The Board acknowledged the Rockford district’s goals for upper-grade students, indicating that such problems are the purpose for proposed legislation to expand the Reading Improvement

Block Grant to serve students in K-12. HB 2063 would assist school districts such as Rockford by providing funds for reading improvement in grades 7 through 12.

However, the Board denied the Rockford petition because so many students in the lower grades are not meeting either state or local reading standards.  In the 1999–2000 school year, 51 percent of Rockford’s third-graders and 49 percent of its fifth-graders failed to meet the Illinois Learning Standards for reading. Report card data showed that in the same year, at least half of third graders in 23 Rockford elementary schools did not meet Standards on the reading ISAT. Similarly, at least half of fifth graders in 21 schools performed below Standards. 

The State Board denied Antioch’s request because the PSAE is designed to measure a student's achievement of the Learning Standards. The test is constructed as a single exam using three components including the ACT assessment and ACT WorkKeys exams in reading and mathematics.  Antioch wants to substitute the ACT and WorkKeys components with the Comprehensive Testing Program III, a test the district is currently using.  State officials content that all districts must use the same test if students and teachers are to be held accountable.

The Board’s decision to recommend that the General Assembly limit the 18 physical education waivers to two years was prompted by recent legislative and policy discussions about physical education waiver requests.

In March, the State Board approved a new policy designed to focus attention on the Illinois Standards for Physical Development and Health.  The new PE policy asks school districts to include, as a part of future waiver and modification requests, specific information about student performance relative to these Standards. ISBE will use the information about how well schools are meeting these Learning Standards when approving or denying modification requests or in recommending to the General Assembly denial of physical education waiver requests. 

House Bill 1927, which is sponsored by Rep. William Delgado (D-Chicago), seeks to place additional restrictions and requirements on requests to waive or modify daily PE.  The proposed legislation includes specific timelines for consideration of renewal requests.

The Board’s recommendation to limit current physical education waiver requests to two years will ensure that these districts’ actions can be reviewed in relation to the Learning Standards within a reasonable period of time.

The May waiver report to the General Assembly contains 92 waiver requests covering 10 topic areas, including 32 that address substitute teachers certificates, 27 pertaining to the limitation of administrative costs, 19 daily physical education requests, seven regarding driver education, two seeking to reduce non-resident student tuition, and one request each that addresses the PSAE, content of evaluation plans, statement of affairs, township treasurer, and transfer of interest income.