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What’s A Grade Worth? State Vs. CPS Ratings Mismatch

Chicago Public Schools is home to half of the state’s lowest performing public schools, but the district rates some of those same schools as good or even great.

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The Chicago Public Schools logo is shown at the district’s headquarters in 2017.

Andrew Gill/WBEZ

Chicago Public Schools is home to roughly half of the state’s lowest performing public schools, but the school district rates some of those same schools as good or even great.

This confusing picture emerged after the state released school ratings for the first time on Tuesday, just four days after the school district published its annual ratings.

“They are completely different metrics,” said CPS’ Chief Education Officer LaTanya McDade.

CPS and the state each administer their own standardized tests, and those exams form the basis for their distinct ratings. Both ratings system, though, give heavy weight to “growth,” or how much students improve on standardized tests. The two rating systems also look at measures like attendance in different ways.

CPS plans to send a detailed explanation to parents to explain the differences.

State Superintendent Tony Smith said he thinks Chicago parents should take heed of the state designations. The state started issuing designations this year — “exemplary,” “commendable,” “underforming” or “lowest performing” — to comply with a new federal education law.

“So you could have a local system, and you may, in fact, look like you are doing okay, until such time as you compare yourself to other schools [in the state] and that reveals you, either are, or, you are not, getting the best for your children,” Smith said in a call with reporters. “The macro system that we have for the state looks at the whole state, and the system that CPS built looks at the students inside Chicago Public Schools.”

McDade notes some similarities between the city and state rankings. About half of Chicago Public Schools were given the state’s “commendable” designation, the second best rating. That compares to about 55 percent of schools that earned CPS’ top two highest ratings out of five. Statewide, 70 percent of schools were designated “commendable.”

Also, the 12 schools deemed “exemplary” by the state were all given the highest rating by Chicago Public Schools. They include 7 of 11 of the district’s highly selective high schools that students test into. Statewide, 10 percent of schools earned the “exemplary” rating while just 2 percent in Chicago got that designation.

And more than 100 Chicago schools earned one of the school district’s top two ratings but were given “underperforming” or “lowest performing” designations by the state. Some 45 percent of CPS schools were rated as “underperforming” or “low performing” by the state compared to 20 percent statewide.

McDade points out the state automatically rates the top 5 percent of schools as “exemplary” and the bottom 5 percent “lowest performing.” She said this is like grading on a curve and is different from CPS’ system, which is based on whether schools reach set targets.

Ratings disconnect at one school

This likely won’t appease parents at Moos Elementary School in Humboldt Park on the city’s Northwest Side. It is the only regular district-run school that earned CPS’ highest rating but was designated as the lowest performing by the state.

Jennie Jiang visited her son’s kindergarten class at Moos on Friday to hear the children read stories they had written. While there, the principal announced over the loudspeaker that the school had jumped two rankings to earn a Level 1+ rating — CPS’ highest.

“Everyone cheered,” Jiang said. “They were saying all the teachers come to the front office to celebrate that after school. So it seemed really exciting. I know the school had worked really hard to get their rating up.”

To hear now that the school received the state’s lowest-performing designation is “devastating,” Jiang said.

She worries parents will see the state report card and not even consider sending their children to Moos.

Cassie Cresswell, with Raise Your Hand parent advocacy group, said these conflicting ratings underscore the problem with having two rating systems.

“It is really ridiculous to have two separate systems and to put all this money into two different tests; it is really problematic,” she said.

Cresswell also criticized both systems for basing most of the ratings on how well students do on standardized tests. She said other states have come up with innovative systems that involve observations by educators, rather than relying on test data.

Check out report cards for all Illinois schools here.

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

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