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Steady progress but many CPS students still lagging in math, reading

Updated: October 31, 2013 2:38PM

A new and stricter scoring of state standardized tests shows that only about half of Chicago Public Schools children can do math at grade level and just under half can read at grade level, though CPS students continued to make some steady progress across all grades and subjects in a year bookended by disruption.

CPS officials released preliminary results from 2013 Illinois State Achievement Tests for grades 3 to 8 on Tuesday, showing that 52.5 percent of all 3rd to 8th graders met or exceeded state standards for math, reading and science, down from 74.2 percent last year.

The giant drop is attributed to a state decision earlier this year to raise the scores required to meet or exceed state standards to better align grade school progress with high school and more accurately reflect how well kids are doing; scoring last year’s results according to this year’s levels show that 50.7 percent of CPS students made the standards in 2012, according to CPS.

The latest results show 48 percent of third to eighth graders meeting the new state standard for reading, and 50.1 percent for math.

“I actually believe this is much better for our children, in the long run it’s going to help our children to be far more successful in getting ready for college,” schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said of the apparent decrease on a conference call Tuesday.

Robin Steans, who heads the state education policy group Advance Illinois, was “pleasantly surprised” to see CPS, the first district to release scores using the new threshhold, improve despite the year’s many distractions. And she approved of what she called a more honest assessment of children’s progress.

“Obviously you want to know where we really are, and now we do. You wish it was a prettier picture but at least now we know what the hill is we’re climbing. While this hill now looks a little steeper, at least we are making progress. For parents, this is ultimately good news.”

Byrd-Bennett praised CPS students for improving across the board during a tumultuous school year that began with a teachers strike, saw the implementation of new common core curriculum standards, a longer school day and another new CEO, and underwent six months of a harrowing school closing process that initially targeted 330 schools. And when past scores are adjusted for this year’s threshhold, CPS students have continued to make steady progress.

“I’m in no way satisfied but it does mean that we need to be persistent and we’re moving in the right direction with our children,” she said.

She and Steans worried about what the district’s budget woes, likely to result in layoffs and program cuts, could do to students’ learning next year.

“We’ve got to rally so we can continue the investments in our youngsters in meaningful ways,” Byrd-Bennett said.

“The reductions across the board to school budgets, this makes me nervous ... I have to keep my fingers crossed that we have to keep this progress going.”

CPS students — magnet, charter and turnaround schools alike — sat for the tests in early March, weeks before CPS announced it would ask the board to permanently close a record 54 schools, 48 of which were approved.

CPS officials said the composite scores of the closing schools lagged 12 percentage points behind the schools set to receive children, validating the district’s claim they’re sending students to better schools.

Of the 48 closing, 23 improved, 23 declined, and one remained the same. The 48th is a high school program whose students don’t take the ISAT.

Some of the biggest gains among the closing schools happened at Bethune Elementary School, which leaped to 38.4 percent meeting or exceeding from an adjusted 22.4 percent. Trumbull Elementary in Andersonville also made big gains, jumping to 55.2 percent meeting and exceeding overall from an adjusted 49 percent in 2012. One of the schools its children will be sent to, Chappell Elementary, also jumped to 68 percent from an adjusted 61.9 percent in 2012.

A few closed schools outpaced their receiving schools, including Morgan Elementary with 34.9 percent meeting or exceeding, compared with 27.9 percent at Ryder.

Of the schools chosen to receive those children, 22 increased their scores, 18 decreased and the rest were not available.

Faraday Elementary jumped to 63 percent meeting and exceeding from an adjusted 46.8 percent. Garfield Park Elementary, which is closing into Faraday, also increased to 42 percent from 26.7 percent. Cardenas, one of the schools getting kids from Paderewski, increased to 55.1 percent from an adjusted 37.5 percent, while Paderewski fell to 18.4 percent from an adjusted 27.7 percent.

But Chopin Elementary dropped to 67.4 percent meeting and exceeding from an adjusted 80.9 percent, while students it will take in from Lafayette Elementary improved a bit to 35 percent meeting or exceeding from an adjusted 33.8 percent.

And Manierre, which was spared from closing at the last minute, increased to 30 percent while its intended receiving school, Jenner, dropped to 16.6 percent.

Charters citywide have been performing at about the same level as regular CPS neighborhood schools over the past several years and just slightly worse this year at 50.4 percent overall compared to CPS’ 52.6 percent, according to the district.

“There’s steady progress in both groups, in general both of these groups are moving up and pretty much in lockstep,” said Ryan Crosby, CPS’ director of performance data and policy. “It shows that both groups of schools are showing progress.”

Andrew Broy, head of the Illinois Networkof Charter Schools, said he preferred to analyze the data by demographics over the next few days before drawing conclusions to see how schools in the same neighborhoods drawing children from similar backgrounds stack up.

“It’s tough to make a comparison,” Broy said.

Not surprisingly, Mayor Rahm Emanuel looked at the test score glass as half-full.

“We have more work to do. But, these are indicators of where progress is being made on the importance of an education of our children … You want a highly-educated, highly-skilled work force and that’s gonna happen at schools. And a school system that is improving each year in its graduation rate, its college attendance and its test scores” will deliver that, he said.

Emanuel attempted to tie his signature plan for a longer school day to the greatest progress in ISAT test scores.

He argued that test scores at the 13 so-called “pioneer” schools that accepted cash bonuses to immediately implement the longer school day registered “almost triple the system-wide growth” in ISAT scores.

Comparing the state’s largest district to its others is not yet possible; State figures are not yet available. By last year’s numbers, CPS had 74 percent making or exceeding state standards compared with 82 percent at the state level.

Contributing: Art Golab, Fran Spielman

To find out how your school tested, go to the interactive chart at

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