SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) -- Illinois' latest standardized test results show that the achievement gap among elementary school students is narrowing, largely because of gains among black, special education and low-income students, the Illinois State Board of Education
The board also said that nine schools flagged for improvement under the decade-old federal No Child Left Behind Act were taken off that status because they made adequate yearly progress for two years in a row. The improvement came even as the state's proficiency benchmarks rose 7.5 percent over the past two years.
"Our students have shown steady, incremental improvement, and we know that represents solid progress," said Christopher Koch, the state's education chief.
The state board reported that over time, the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed by 11.4 percent in math and 7.9 percent in reading. Since 2006, black students have posted a 14.3 percent increase in meeting and exceeding proficiency in math and a 13 percent increase in reading on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test.
Hispanic students also have upped their proficiency on the statewide test, improving by 4.7 percent in math and 5.2 percent in reading.
The improvements come as the number of minority students in Illinois' public schools continues to climb, from 36.7 percent of students in 1997 to 48.6 percent this year. During that span, the population of the state's low-income students rose from 35.7 percent to 48.1 percent.
Among special-education students, the achievement gap between students with an Individual Education Program and those without it narrowed. The number of participants meeting and exceeding proficiency increased by 7.6 percent in math and 7 percent in reading over the past five years.
During that time, the number of low-income students meeting and bettering proficiency on the ISAT has risen by 10.8 percent in math and 10.4 percent in reading.
Monday's announcement comes as the state works on an application for a waiver from certain requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. The state board announced the plan earlier this month, noting that Illinois was falling behind in meeting the increasingly strict performance targets set by the federal law.
President Barack Obama announced in September that states would be allowed to ask the U.S. Department of Education to be exempted from some of the law's requirements under certain conditions, such as enacting standards to prepare students for college and careers and making teachers and principals more accountable.
The federal law passed in 2001 with widespread bipartisan support and much fanfare. It sought to hold schools more accountable for student performance and get better qualified teachers in classrooms while offering school choice and extra tutoring to students attending schools deemed failing.
The Obama administration said it was offering the waivers because Congress has been slow to address various problems of the law.