While overall test scores have risen for Austin students, none of the neighborhood schools hit the federal Annual Yearly Progress mark on this year’s state standardized tests, according to newly released state report card data.

The 2011 Illinois Report Cards were released last week. Austin, however, is not the only neighborhood that failed to meet AYP.

This year, 98.5 percent of high schools statewide, along with six of every 10 elementary and middle schools fell short of federal reading and math requirements, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The AYP target, as outlined under the federal No Child Left Behind law, increases each year. This year’s target is 85 percent of students needing to meet or exceed standards on performance tests. Third through eighth graders take the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), while high school juniors take the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE). Both assessments are taken by kids each spring.

More than half of the Austin-area’s 29 schools with available data had at least 50 percent of students meeting or exceeding grade-level requirements.

Two schools, Sayre Elementary Language Academy, 1850 N. Newland, and George Rogers Clark Elementary, 1045 S. Monitor, were about 5 percentage points shy of making AYP.

“The scores are not where we want them to be, but the schools are making improvements,” said Dwayne Truss, a member of the South Austin Coalition Community Council.

Overall, “the scores are going up,” Truss added.

Five Austin elementary schools – Brunson Math and Science Specialty, Emmet, Howe, May Elementary Community Academy and Spencer Elementary Math and Science Academy – received Illinois’ Academic Improvement Award.

The schools received the award for having an upward trend in test scores for at least three years. They also had a 7.5-point increase this year or a 15-point increase in test scores over the past two years, according to the Illinois Interactive Report Card’s web site.

Roger Lewis, principal at May School, said the school is proud of its efforts to increase test scores. But, he added, there is “much further to go to make sure the needs of all students are met.”

Last year, May had about 51 percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards on the ISAT. This year, the percentage rose to 57.8 percent. Lewis said teachers and administrators spent “quite a bit of time” talking with students, so they know where they stand academically and what they need to do to improve.

Despite rising test scores, Austin schools are not in the clear. The high schools were among the lowest performers in the area. Only 5 percent of students at Marshall and Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy were performing at grade-level, according to the schools’ PSAE results.

The highest-performing high school was Prosser Career Academy, just outside the Austin neighborhood, with 34 percent of students reading and doing math at grade level.

Nine of the 29 schools received an “Academic Early Warning Status” from the state because those schools failed to make AYP for two consecutive years. As a result, they’re eligible for state sanctions.

More than 70 percent of Austin’s schools are on a more severe “Academic Watch Status” for failing to make AYP for two additional years after being placed on Academic Early Warning.

Truss said the state’s academic status system is a “paper tiger” that has “no teeth,” adding that Chicago schools “have their own rules.” Chicago is responsible for actions against the school, not the state, Truss said.

Donald Moore, executive director at Design for Change, maintained that schools in Austin and the South Side are hampered to improve due to restrictions imposed by the Chicago Board of Education. Moore explained that while under probation, schools are not permitted to develop their own academic plans and budget, and may lose the right to choose their own principal.

There are currently about 300 Chicago schools on probation, according to Moore, whose organization studies urban educational reforms.

“Their Local School Councils and principals don’t have the flexibility to improve the schools if a school is on probation,” he said.

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