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Scoring a slot at some CPS college preps: Near perfection required

Mary Szromb(left) her older sister JuliSzromboutside Walter PaytCollege Prep High School. Juliis sophomore PaytMary just learned she wslot there this

Mary Szromba (left) and her older sister Julia Szromba outside Walter Payton College Prep High School. Julia is a sophomore at Payton, and Mary just learned she won a slot there this fall. | John J. Kim~Sun-Times

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Updated: May 9, 2012 10:19AM



Nearly perfect scores — and perfect grades.

That’s what it took this year for many eighth-graders to win admission to the most selective of the city’s selective-enrollment public high schools. (See chart below.)

To snag a freshmen seat this fall at Payton College Prep, close to half of those accepted — 45.125 percent to be exact — had to earn an amazing, minimum 896 of the 900 points possible under the system’s complicated college prep admissions formula.

At Northside College Prep, a similar percent of kids needed at least an 895 out of 900 to score a seat.

And at Payton, Northside and Whitney Young Magnet, at least 45 percent of students accepted had to rack up straight A’s in four key seventh-grade subjects to even be considered. Two standardized tests also are used to determine admission.

“Last year, I remember ripping open my report card because I knew I had to get all A’s,” said Mary Szromba, an eighth-grader at the private North Park Elementary who learned this week that she can join her older sister at Payton College Prep this fall, in part due to straight A’s but also to knockout test scores.

“Last year was a whole lot scarier. My entire class felt it,’’ Mary said. “The kids in my class, if they got a B, they’d be depressed for weeks.’’

Elite city public high schools created in part to keep the city’s middle class from bailing out of the system after eighth grade are far more competitive this year, for the middle class and others, Chicago Public School data obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times indicates.

A record high number of applicants — 14,284 — combined with 281 fewer seats, helped goose up minimum admission scores in most, if not all, categories of kids accepted for fall admission to the city’s nine college preps. Updated census data also made admission tougher for some students who switched “socioeconomic” tiers.

“We know kids who scored an 895 out of 900 and didn’t get their first choice,’’ said Mary’s father, attorney Tom Szromba. “They feel bad even though they achieved an amazing score. There’s just something crazy about this system. If the purpose of these schools is to keep the middle class in the city and in the system, the way things are moving, that will be impossible in a year or two, except for people who can thread that needle and have near perfection.’’

Blogs read by CPS parents burned this week with news that minimum admission scores at some college preps seemed to either rise astronomically or jump to astronomical levels.

“Wowza,’’ commented one parent on cpsobsessed.com about the huge jump in the minimum score required at Lane Tech among kids in Tier 4 — the wealthiest tier, with a median family income of $77,651. At Lane, Tier 4 kids needed to score a whopping 57 points higher than last year, and hit a minimum 839.

Under CPS’ latest college prep admission formula, the top 28.5 percent of students in rank order of their total admission scores are selected. Plus the top 16.625 percent within each of four economic tiers are chosen. And 5 percent are handpicked by principals.

Tier 4 kids needed near perfect scores to get into Payton and Northside last year, and to parents’ chagrin, the minimum scores at those schools inched still higher this year. They needed a minimum 896 to get into Payton and 895 to get into Northside.

Kids in even the least affluent tier, called Tier 1, had to score 49 points higher at Lane this year and 31 points higher at Brooks College Prep, CPS data showed. At Lindblom, Tier 1 kids had to score 34 points higher and Tier 4 had to score 30 points higher.

“We have a great applicant pool and it’s a very strong applicant pool. That’s what’s driving the numbers,’’ said Katie Ellis, head of CPS Access and Enrollment. The rising popularity of college preps and an increasingly accessible application process may have contributed to the record-high application numbers, Ellis said.

Although some students — middle class or otherwise — vying for the most competitive seats may not have snared their first choice, they still may have won seats at their second or third choice, Ellis said.

Plus, she noted, they still have a shot at the five percent of seats available at each college prep via so-called “principal picks.’’ That application process runs from March 9 through March 23.

Emma Cullnan, an eighth-grader at Keller Gifted Magnet, said she strove for straight A’s in not only seventh grade but also into eighth grade — just in case her admission scores didn’t win her a seat at Payton and she had to vie for a principal pick there.

Emma took two different sets of test prep classes, didn’t procrastinate with her homework, and stayed up many a night to maintain her grades and to keep her test scores high. This week, she got the news she made it into Payton, her first choice.

“It was a lot of pressure,’’ said Emma. “I’m glad it’s over. I’m going to be getting a lot more sleep.’’

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Minimum scores necessary to get into selective enrollment schools for 2012-13 school year

School Minimum 2012-13 Minimum Change Maximum 2012-13 Maximum Change Average 2012-13 Avg Change
Brooks Rank 801 12 891 -9 830.24 7.24
Brooks Tier 1 681 31 771 -7 710.12 4.12
Brooks Tier 2 720 23 799 10 748.72 19.72
Brooks Tier 3 758 17 800 13 777.09 15.09
Brooks Tier 4 756 29 800 12 777.65 21.65
Jones Rank 885 5 900 0 891.28 2.28
Jones Tier 1 775 -5 883 10 807.34 -8.66
Jones Tier 2 816 6 885 12 846.38 14.38
Jones Tier 3 854 7 885 6 863.48 1.48
Jones Tier 4 875 10 885 5 879.1 6.1
King Rank 732 5 897 33 770.09 10.09
King Tier 1 657 7 731 4 685.13 1.13
King Tier 2 663 -8 728 2 691.28 -0.72
King Tier 3 691 1 731 5 709.75 2.75
King Tier 4 651 -1 731 7 689.42 6.42
Lane Rank 861 31 900 0 876.3 21.3
Lane Tier 1 737 49 856 34 774.1 33.1
Lane Tier 2 768 34 859 29 797.57 21.57
Lane Tier 3 813 43 861 32 835.59 35.59
Lane Tier 4 839 57 861 31 849.83 43.83
Lindblom Rank 788 32 892 29 817.37 25.37
Lindblom Tier 1 685 34 781 26 711.74 28.74
Lindblom Tier 2 706 10 775 19 733.1 15.1
Lindblom Tier 3 732 24 785 29 753.61 23.61
Lindblom Tier 4 716 30 783 27 751.74 32.74
Northside Rank 898 1 900 0 899.71 0.71
Northside Tier 1 792 0 898 1 841.16 -4.84
Northside Tier 2 835 7 897 0 860.67 -4.33
Northside Tier 3 882 10 898 1 890.73 1.73
Northside Tier 4 895 4 898 1 896.52 2.52
Payton Rank 898 1 900 0 899.53 0.53
Payton Tier 1 822 16 895 4 862.74 13.74
Payton Tier 2 861 28 897 2 877.77 12.77
Payton Tier 3 885 16 898 3 892.8 8.8
Payton Tier 4 896 7 898 3 897.23 5.23
Westinghouse Rank 786 20 880 -8 815.99 19.99
Westinghouse Tier 1 704 28 778 12 731.15 14.15
Westinghouse Tier 2 728 11 782 17 751.08 18.08
Westinghouse Tier 3 738 10 785 19 760.3 14.3
Westinghouse Tier 4 718 13 785 19 750.77 13.77
Young Rank 891 12 900 0 894.72 5.72
Young Tier 1 800 16 889 12 833.82 14.82
Young Tier 2 822 20 889 10 850.11 18.11
Young Tier 3 864 27 889 10 874.48 18.48
Young Tier 4 879 14 891 12 884.69 12.69

Rank: The 28.5 percent highest-scoring applicants to each college prep are accepted in rank order of their total admission score.

Tier scores: CPS divides the city into four socioeconomic tiers, based on income and four other factors. (1 = poorest; 4 = richest.) Of those accepted, 16.625 percent are picked in order of their scores within each of the four tiers.

Source: Chicago Public Schools



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