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CPS tier system update changes chances of getting into selective school

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How tiers work
in the selective-enrollment school process

Under the system, the first 30 percent of available seats at each selective school are filled strictly according to student scores citywide.

The remaining 70 percent of seats are distributed equally among the four tiers and are filled by the highest-scoring students in each tier. This guarantees that each tier — including the poorest tier — will get 17.5 percent of the seats.

Tier levels are assigned by census tract, 10- to 20-square block areas within the city.

Levels are based on six equally weighted factors: family income; percentage of single-family homes; percentage of homes where English is not the first language; percent of owner-occupied homes; adult education levels, and local school performance.

Data to determine the tiers come from the U.S. Census and a private company, PopStats.

Art Golab

Updated: December 20, 2012 6:16AM



The chances of getting your child into a selective-enrollment school will change for about a quarter of Chicago’s families next year under the latest update of the public school tier system.

About 12 percent of Chicago census tracts were assigned to a higher tier, making it harder for children to test into elite selective-enrollment schools — while about 11 percent of tracts were reclassified into a lower tier, making it easier to enroll.

Tiers that went up tended to be in gentrifying communities such as Logan Square or West Town. Declining tiers were spread across Bungalow Belt neighborhoods on the Northwest and Southwest Sides.

Logan Square was the neighborhood affected the most, with nearly half of its census tracts going up to a higher tier level.

One tract in Logan Square rose from Tier 2 to Tier 4 — one of only two such jumps in the city.

Last year, when the area was Tier 2, a student could have gotten into Lane Tech High School with a minimum score of 768 points.

Now, with the area classified as Tier 4, it will take an estimated minimum of 789 points to get into the highly selective high school, according to the Chicago Public Schools.

Software engineer Matthew Bosch, who has two preschool daughters and lives in a newer town home complex, is one of the reasons the area jumped two levels.

“I love living in this neighborhood because my kids don’t think about anybody’s color,” he said.

But he added, “I worry about my kids being able to test into an elite school.”

Despite the tier changes in Logan Square, the regular schools in the neighborhood still have more than 95 percent low-income students, according to Nancy Aardema, executive director of the Logan Square Neighborhood Association.

“I can’t understand how you would look at a neighborhood with all these really low-income schools and say these students have to do better now because their parents are trying to make ends meet in a gentrifying neighborhood,” Aardema said. “Is that fair?”

But CPS said the complex tier system, instituted in 2009, is the best way to maintain diversity after a court desegregation decree was tossed out.

After much deliberation, it was “the best system we could devise,” CPS spokeswoman Robyn Ziegler said in an email.

“That being said, we recognize that this system is not perfect and does not reflect with 100 percent accuracy every individual person’s circumstances,” Ziegler said. “There are families that would be Tier 1 from an income perspective that live in Tier 4 neighborhoods, and vice versa.”

The alternative to using geographic areas would be to ask people to self-report details of their socioeconomic status, which would bring up privacy and fraud issues, according to Ziegler.

Elsewhere in the city, there were some surprising changes, with two tracts in wealthy Lincoln Park dropping from Tier 4, the highest level, to Tier 3.

Two tracts in the University of Chicago’s neighborhood, Hyde Park, also dropped to Tier 3.

Another surprise was the single tract encompassing part of Canaryville, just south of Bridgeport. It joined the club of Chicago’s richest and most educated communities, jumping one level to Tier 4.



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