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For the second year, elementary students in Chicago Public Schools saw their reading scores increase, according to preliminary results released on Thursday. These Nixon Elementary School students are in a dual language class.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

CPS elementary reading scores rise, surpassing pre-pandemic levels

The growth on state exams was led by Black students, CPS officials said. But preliminary math scores on state exams show students still lag behind.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Pedro Martinez announced Thursday that preliminary state test scores show more elementary school students are proficient in reading compared to last year, putting performance “above pre-pandemic levels” for the first time.

Martinez said this growth was “led by our Black students, who made the greatest gains.” Martinez received applause at an event called Promise & Progress, which brought together Martinez and two previous CPS CEOs as well as university researchers.

Math proficiency on annual state exams did not improve as much as reading, though there were some gains, he said.

Still, even with this growth, CPS still has low proficiency levels. Only about 31% of elementary students are considered proficient in reading and 19% in math. Last year, 26% of students were proficient and in 2019, it was 28%. The state usually releases final results in the fall for third through eighth graders on the Illinois Assessment of Readiness exam in reading, math and science.

Martinez acknowledged there is still work to do, but also noted that many students were showing progress, even if they were not yet on grade level. He said to think of the proficiency rate as “a finish line,” and that a lot of students start way behind that end point.

This is the second year since the pandemic that CPS has seen improvement in proficiency rates. Martinez said he and other CPS officials were gratified when they realized that CPS’ progress was outpacing other districts in the state.

What district officials didn’t know, and were especially pleased to learn from a study from Harvard and Stanford universities, was that CPS was improving more than most other large districts in the nation, Martinez said. But, at the Joyce Foundation event Thursday, Harvard professor Tom Kane said the analysis might need to be revised later this year.

But Kane said that does not take away from the fact that Chicago Public Schools is seeing improvement.

At the same time, Kane said research shows a lot more parents think their children are doing better than they actually are.

“That is getting in the way of more aggressive recovery strategies,” he said.

Kane said school districts need to alert parents if their children are not proficient so they can take action. He also said school districts need to confront chronic absenteeism, which increased during the pandemic and has not returned to pre-pandemic levels.

Sarah Karp covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on X @WBEZeducation and @sskedreporter.

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