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CPS dumps ‘probation’ label for schools not making the grade

GRAPHIC: CPS performance levels

GRAPHIC: CPS performance levels

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Updated: October 1, 2013 6:24AM

Chicago Public Schools struggling academically will no longer be labeled as “on probation,” under a new ratings plan the district unveiled this week.

Instead of rating schools Level 1 at the top, 2 in the middle, and 3 at the bottom, under the system to begin in a year, CPS will use five tiers to show parents and community members how a school is faring in test scores, attendance and school culture, said John Barker, CPS’ director of accountability.

Under the old system, schools in Level 2 or 3 that slipped too much academically could end up on “probation.”

In the new system, the lowest two tiers will be for schools CPS will consider on “provisional support” or on “intensive support.”

And every school under CPS — charters, alternatives, contracts — will be rated by the same standards, Barker said. Before, reporting varied among the non-traditional schools.

“Chicago has taken a step forward as leader in the nation with providing schools and parents and community with a very clear, very comprehensive picture of what school quality looks like,” he said. “It’s a new day and a new opportunity to support schools in the lowest performing categories.”

The approach, developed after meetings with such school groups as VOYCE, Raise Your Hand, the Illinois Network of Charter Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union — and business and philanthropic leaders — is more “holistic” than the old levels system because it incorporates and values more of the elements that make up a healthy school.

In elementary schools, 65 percent of a school’s rating will be based on standardized test scores and student growth in scores, and attendance and results on the 5Essentials survey on school culture account for another 20 and 10 percent. The old measure leaned on test scores for about 86 percent.

Tests will account for 40 percent of a high school’s rating and attendance 10 percent. College enrollment,“persistence” — or how many kids make it through the first year and enroll for fall term of their second ­— and college and career credentials, such as International Baccalaureate certificates, count for another five percent each.

And a high school will get 10 percent credit for its 4-year graduation rate and another 10 percent for how likely freshmen are to get a diploma in four years. Tests used to count for 43 percent of a high school’s rating, Barker said.

The schools in the top three tiers will be left to their own devices; Tier 4 schools will get what the district is calling provisional support, which lets the CEO provide more training for the Local School Council that helps lead a school, draft a new school improvement plan or directly implement the school’s improvement plan. Schools that lag at Tier 5 could have their principals, teachers or LSCs be replaced or the schools could be turned around or even closed.

The Board of Education approved the plan unanimously at Wednesday’s meeting; CPS expects to use the levels ratings one last time for 2012-13 school year data and then begin the tiers at the start of the 2013-14 school year, Barker said. The district, which directly operates 557 schools, says about 248 schools were on probation according to 2011-12 data, the most recent available.

CTU president Karen Lewis pleaded at board meetings all year for CPS to stop using the term “probation” for children and celebrated on Twitter when she saw that officials decided to bury the term.

“I think it’s important not to think of schools as worthy of punishment, trying to get out of the mentality that schools need to be punished for bad behavior,” Lewis said Thursday. “When you have that in your mind, it’s OK to pull the nuclear option of closing it or replacing all the people in it.”

Lewis thinks the weight given to test scores still is too high. The 5Essentials survey is “a very good indicator of what’s going on in a building,” she said, but it counts for just 10 percent of an elementary school’s score.

There is one easy fix, she said: “Make all of our neighborhood schools good and none of that matters.”

Randel Josserand, deputy network chief for 25 high schools and 24 elementary schools on the West Side, said the new ratings system could help with kids who are behind by targeting them better.

“Half the schools in the district fell into Level 3,” he said. “A school might be progressing in Level 3 and never get out of that level,” said Josserand, who was part of many focus groups. “Having five levels allows us to be more focused in our interventions [and] allows us to be even sharper in our focus to make sure we’re working with schools most intently with those supports.

“The emphasis will be to keep schools from schools falling into that Level 5 category.

Robin Steans, director of the Advance Illinois educational policy group, likes the balanced approach she thinks will help schools answer: “How do I make smarter and smarter decisions for my kids?”

But the challenge going forward — which CPS hasn’t yet addressed — becomes taking the measurements and using them as “not a punishment tool or a hammer but a continuous improvement tool or strategy,” she said. “It’s going to matter enormously how they [at CPS] answer that question.”


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