Bullying Doesn’t Happen Where You Think It Does

Where does bullying take place? Most parents would answer out on the school grounds, in the cafeteria, or perhaps in a bathroom or locker room—all places where teachers are less likely to be present or where there are a lot of kids. A new report from the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics shines a surprising light on where bullying takes place.

The most commonly reported place to be bullied for students ages 12 through 18 was actually in a hall or stairwell, with 41.7%. The figure was nearly identical for boys (41.8%) and girls (41.6%). This finding is somewhat surprising, as students only spend a tiny fraction of their day moving between classes. It also provides important information on how schools could potentially reduce bullying by having teachers in the hallway outside their classrooms during passing periods as well as monitors in the stairwells.

The second most common location was actually in a classroom, with 33.6% of students reporting being bullied there. In an article about the study on Edutopia, author and former teacher Stephen Merrill speculated that such bullying might be more common during the transitional moments in the classroom when students are arriving, moving between activities, or leaving the classroom—all more chaotic times that are more difficult for a teacher to manage.

The remaining locations for bullying that were surveyed were in the cafeteria (22.2%), outside on the school grounds (19.3%), online or by text (11.5%), on the school bus (10.0%), and in a bathroom or locker room (9.4%).

If your PTA would like to address the bullying issue in your school, take advantage of PTA’s Connect for Respect program. This turnkey program provides your PTA with all of the materials and resources needed to assess your school’s current climate, to engage the school community in dialogue, and to develop and implement an action plan.

New Illinois ABLE Program Helps Families with Special Needs

ilRaising a child with special needs can be expensive. Last week, Illinois State Treasurer Michael W. Frerichs unveiled the Illinois ABLE plan to help families save for future expenses. The plan was developed by the National Achieving a Better Life Experience (ABLE) Alliance, a consortium of 13 states that worked with Congress and state legislatures to create this special investment program that allows for tax-free investment growth when savings are spent on qualifying disability-related expenses.

The plan is similar to the 529 college savings plans in that families would be allowed to set aside money for future qualified expenses, invest these funds in professionally designed savings accounts, and avoid some tax penalties on the fund. Eligible individuals can open the account for themselves, or an authorized individual can open an account on their behalf. To be eligible, a person must:

  • Be entitled to SSI or SSDI because of their disability
  • Have their disability present before age 26

Annual contributions per beneficiary are limited to the federal gift tax limit, which is currently $14,000. Like the 529 college savings plan, anyone can contribute to an ABLE plan, including relatives and friends. The Illinois ABLE plan is designed to protect an individual’s federal benefits, and up to $100,000 saved in an ABLE account would not be counted against a person’s eligibility for SSI or other federal means-tested programs. ABLE account holders are still eligible for Medicaid regardless of their account balance.

Withdrawals from an ABLE account are tax-free if used for qualified disability expenses. These are any expenses that are incurred as a result of living with a disability and that are intended to improve the beneficiary’s quality of life. They include, but are not limited to:

  • Education
  • Health and wellness
  • Housing
  • Transportation
  • Legal fees
  • Financial management
  • Employment training and support
  • Assistive technology
  • Personal support services
  • Oversight and monitoring
  • Funeral and burial expenses

The state treasurer’s office has created a fact sheet to share with families who may benefit from the Illinois ABLE plan. The Illinois ABLE website provides additional information as well as providing a fast and easy way to sign up and create an Illinois ABLE account.

ISBE Unveils New Friendlier Website

seallogostacked_100pixelstallonwhiteThe Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provides a wealth of information for families, teachers, administrators, and community members on their website. However, finding the information you were looking for used to involve navigating an extremely complicated series of menus and links, backing up from dead ends, and sometimes futile searches. However, right before the holidays, ISBE debuted their redesigned website with easier navigation, topics arranged in several different ways, and even a short introductory videos on how to move around and how to search the new website.

Across the top of the website are links to areas for key education stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, families, communities, and new media. The topics link at the end of the menu takes you to a grid of 21 separate topics, including:

A dozen of these topics are highlighted on the lower half of the home page. The bottom of the page provides links to the Superintendent’s weekly message and a calendar of ISBE meetings.

As the deadline for the state’s ESSA implementation plan approaches this spring, the easy access to Illinois’s draft plan and reader’s guide will be critical to families wanting to provide feedback. The third draft of the plan is currently being completed and should be available in the near future. Likewise, the information on the upcoming state assessments, including the PARCC assessment for grades 3 through 8 and the new SAT assessment for high school juniors, will be helpful for families wanting to understand the schedule for assessments and the release of their child’s results. There is also information on the new physical fitness assessments that are starting this year.

With the proliferation of misinformation circulating on social media today, it is especially useful to be able to go directly to the root source for accurate information. The new ISBE website makes finding that core information directly from the source so much easier than it has been in the past, allowing families to find out exactly what their child’s school needs to be doing to provide them with a quality education.

The Illinois ESSA Plan Draft #2 Highlights

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The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) became law almost one year ago. During this past year, Illinois and every other state has been working hard to develop a plan to implement ESSA in their state, with the final plan due to the US Department of Education on April 3, 2017. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has released the second draft of the state plan, with comments due to ISBE by December 27, 2016. Illinois PTA has been representing the voice of families and children on several of the state committees making recommendations during the creation of the plan. Here are the highlights of what is currently in the state plan.

Accountability

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), school accountability was determined by the results of a single test. In Illinois, that was the ISAT for grades 3 through 8 and the PSAE/ACT for high school juniors. Schools needed to have a specific percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards as well as the same percentage of students in subgroups such as African-American students, Hispanic students, and special education students also meeting or exceeding state standards. Schools that did not meet those percentages (known as making Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP) were labeled as failing and subject to penalties. As a result, many states lowered their state standards and simplified their state tests to get as many students meeting or exceeding those lower standards.

With the development of the Common Core State Standards, implemented in Illinois as the New Illinois Learning Standards, a set of high-quality, high-expectation standards replace the older, lower standards. With those new standards came a new assessment aligned to those standards, the PARCC assessment. The PARCC test required students to demonstrate proficiency in what they had learned, not just memorized facts. But school accountability was still based on NCLB and its AYP standard. Under ESSA, that has changed significantly.

ESSA requires states to develop their own school accountability measure. The measure must include:

  • Student assessment
  • A second academic indicator (e.g., student growth, high school graduation rate, etc.)
  • English language proficiency
  • At least one other indicator of school quality or student success (e.g., Advanced Placement classes, family engagement, discipline reports, attendance, etc.)

States will determine what indicators they will use and how to weight each one in their accountability measure, but academic indicators must be given “significantly more” weight than school quality/student success indicators. It is unclear what the US Department of Education considers significantly more weight at this time, but Illinois’s draft plan #2 considers three different weights (70/30, 60/40, and 51/49). Depending on the weighting chosen, the annual assessment (now PARCC for grades 3-8 and the SAT for high school) will have a different level of importance in determining school accountability.

Illinois is currently considering student growth for its second academic indicator for at least grades 3 through 8 and possibly for high school as well. Draft plan #2 had four different growth models that are being looked at for the lower grades. A second high school assessment such as the PSAT may be needed to adequately growth at the high school level, though that approach comes with additional costs to the state. It may be possible to use a student’s 8th grade PARCC results as part of a high school growth indicator, but since that assessment is not used across the country or in private schools, it would be difficult to measure student growth for students who enter the Illinois public schools during their high school years.

Other accountability issues addressed in the draft plan include:

  • Reducing the size of identified subgroups to 20 (i.e., a school will only need 20 Pacific Islanders, for example, for those students’ data to be reported as a subgroup).
  • Creating a “Former English Language Learner (ELL)” subgroup to continue to track their progress after they are considered proficient in English.
  • Developing reporting for new groups, including homeless students, students in foster care, and students with a parent serving in the military.

ISBE is also reviewing all of the required data that schools and districts must provide to ensure that additional reporting requirements are not overly burdensome.

English Language Learners

Illinois has a state policy of educating students who are English Language Learners (ELLs) in their native language for core content or, where the native language is not as common, at least providing support in their native language, while also teaching English as a second language. As part of supporting ELLs, Illinois has been participating in the development of English language proficiency standards and assessments that incorporate the current college- and career-ready goals. ISBE will be meeting with stakeholders to determine what will constitute English language proficiency, with recommendations submitted by June 30, 2017.

ESSA also requires states to identify languages other than English that are present to a significant extent among the student population. For Illinois, 10 languages meet that standard, with Spanish being the most common. Illinois currently provides PARCC instructions in those 10 languages, but only the PARCC math assessment has been trans-adapted into Spanish. ISBE is considering public comments that suggested providing assessments in languages other than English when 30% or more of the ELL students speak the same language.

Title I Funding

In order to receive Title I funding, each school district in Illinois must submit a plan that was developed in consultation with stakeholders (e.g., families). Many of the required elements in this plan are similar to those under NCLB, but new requirements include:

  • How the district will identify and address disparities in teacher distribution.
  • How the district will ensure that every child is taught by a highly effective teacher.
  • How the district will support efforts to reduce the overuse of discipline practices that remove students from the classroom, including high rates for specific subgroups of students.

ISBE is also adding two more requirements to the plan based on public comment that are not required under ESSA:

  • How the district will identify and address disparities in library resources.
  • How the district will support efforts to encourage and support the arts.

Providing Public Comment

Illinois PTA already serves on several of the committees helping ISBE to develop the state ESSA implementation plan. If you are interested in providing comments directly to ISBE regarding draft plan #2, submit them to essa@isbe.net no later than December 27, 2016. Be sure to include your name or your organization’s name, as well as the section number and the page number that your comment is addressing.