Chicago sees increasing test scores despite stormy year

But under tougher grading system, just 52.5 percent of city public elementary school kids meet standards in reading, math, and science.

July 16, 2013

(WBEZ/Linda Lutton)

Chicago school officials say that despite a tumultuous school year, the city’s elementary school students improved on state standardized exams—although their gains will be harder to notice due to a new grading scale introduced by the state.

Students had to score higher than in previous years to be considered "meeting" or "exceeding" state standards on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, which is given each spring to  third- through eighth-graders. Questions on the 2013 ISAT also got harder, according to city and state officials; 20 percent of  questions were based on tougher “Common Core” standards the state adopted. The changes are part of a move to raise the bar for the state’s elementary school students. In 2014-15 an entirely new test will be introduced.

Districts across Illinois have been bracing for their pass rates on the ISAT to plummet. And Chicago, which voluntarily released its preliminary 2013 scores to the public Tuesday, did see scores drop by roughly 20 points. Last year at this time, the district announced that 74.2 percent of students met standards. Now, under the new grading system, just 52.5 percent of students meet or exceed standards.

But Chicago school officials say after adjusting for the new grading scale, students improved in every grade and every subject.

“Our kids are still moving in the right direction,” said schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett. “We have a lot of work to do, and we’re not going to deny that, however, this is moving in the right direction.”

Byrd-Bennett said that despite a teachers strike that got school off to a slow start, changes in leadership, and a six-month school closings process that at one point put half the district’s elementary schools on warning, teachers and principals “kept their eye on the ball, and I can’t say enough about those people—the educators and our parents and kids. I think they deserve tremendous thanks for remaining focused.”

School officials say 65 percent of schools showed improvements. The district re-calculated ISAT scores going back to 2001 using the new state cut scores, so student performance can be compared across years.

There didn't appear to be any exceptional increase in scores from the longer school day, a major initiative of Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Gains in composite test scores this year were typical of annual gains posted by the school district over the last decade, despite an extra 75 minutes of school this year. But officials say 11 schools that adopted the longer school day one year ahead of schedule continued to show bigger improvements than the rest of the district’s elementary schools.

School officials also said test scores showed:

·         Turnaround schools—where all staff was fired and management turned over to the nonprofit Academy for Urban School Leadership—posted higher gains on average than district-run schools. (However, improvement at individual AUSL turnaround schools varied widely.)

·         Charters and neighborhood schools (defined by CPS as schools with a neighborhood boundary) show roughly the same performance and growth over the past 12 years.

·         The achievement gap between white students and minority students grew wider last year.

Among the 49 elementary schools the district closed in June, 23 saw their scores drop. Among the 52 designated receiving schools slated to take students in, 22 saw their scores go down.

See below for preliminary ISAT results reported by Chicago Public Schools.
 

Linda Lutton is an education reporter at WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation