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CPS changes school ratings...again

Chicago Public Schools can’t seem to make up its mind about how to measure school performance.

School ratings have been a staple in CPS for almost two decades, but in the last year, district officials have changed the system three times and still have not released the updated ratings to the public.

Typically, those ratings – Level 1, Level 2, and Level 3 – are made public in the fall after all the data from the previous school year is complete. The district has historically used the ratings to determine which schools to close or where to fire staff. The teachers union and parents have long criticized the ratings for being too focused on test scores, but some schools use the ratings to market themselves and attract new students.

Parents got the updated ratings when they picked up student report cards in November in recent years, but this year the ratings were missing altogether.

Under the latest proposal going before the Board of Education on Wednesday, each school would get a rating, but the CPS CEO could change it in certain circumstances.

“Where’s the accountability in that?” asks Cassie Creswell, the leader of the group More Than a Score, which advocates against high-stakes standardized testing. “It’s almost laughable that the people who put so much weight on these test scores are now sort of caught in their own trap.”

The school rating policy used in the past was made up mostly of standardized tests. Last year, district officials announced a new formula that would also take into account student academic growth and school culture. But since announcing the new formula, the district has built in several loopholes.

Over the summer, the Board approved a change that would allow high-performing schools to use only test scores if they scored poorly under the new formula.

The latest says that if any school rated in the top two categories falls to a lower category as a result of a significant event, like a school getting students from a closed school or having all of its staff fired in a school turnaround action, the CEO can override the rating for one year.

“We want to make sure we’re not placing an unfair burden on schools that have historically performed well,” said CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey.

The most recent change would also ditch the vocabulary attached to the new system. Instead of switching to a system that labels schools Tier 1, 2, 3, 4 or 5, the district wants to go back to using the Level 1, 2, 3 labels, but they plan to add two subcategories under Level 1 and Level 2 called Level 1+ and Level 2+.

“The metrics aren’t changing,” McCaffrey said. “It’s a continuation of using the terms levels.”

Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the CPS CEO, said in a statement that the new system will give families “a better indication of the quality of our schools.” But Creswell said the back-and-forth over the new ratings is causing more confusion and causing many to question how reliable the ratings will ultimately be.

Becky Vevea is a producer and reporter for WBEZ. Follow her @WBEZeducation.

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