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Elementary test scores hit record but up by tiniest margin since ’05


Emanuel's first education report card
% meeting or exceeding state standards on 2012 state tests
At all Chicago public elementary schools 74.2 % (+.9)
At 5 Pioneer Schools w/ Sep. longer-day starts: 75.3 % (+6.6)*
At 12 Pioneer Schools w/ Sep.-Jan. longer-day starts: 69.0 % (+2.5)**
At AUSL Turnaround Schools: 63.9 % (+2.5)
At charters: 76.6 % (+1.2)
At non-charters: 73.9 % (+.8)
*Reflects average of Fiske +11.8; Nash +2.7; Skinner North No Change; Disney II -1.2; Wm Brown -4.7.
**Reflects average of five September start schools plus Montefiore +18; Melody +5.5; Morton +4.2; Sexton +4; Howe -1.8; Bethune -4.3; Mays -7.6.
Source: Chicago Public Schools, preliminary data, results from combined 3rd- through 8th-grade reading and math, 4th- and 7th-grade science on the 2012 Illinois Standards Achievement Tests.
Database: 2012 ISAT data for Chicago Public Schools
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Updated: August 17, 2012 6:51AM

Chicago’s elementary test scores hit a record high during the first year of Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s watch but rose by the smallest margin — only 0.9 of a percentage point — since 2005, preliminary data released Monday indicated.

Numbers crunched by Chicago Public School officials showed the three main education initiatives pushed by Emanuel all saw bigger average gains in the percent of elementary students passing state tests this spring than the system as a whole, with Emanuel’s longer day effort leading the pack.

CPS officials called the longer day results “promising,” noting that the five schools that started the effort in September posted seven times bigger gains than the district by rising an average 6.6 percentage points. The total 12 schools that started a longer day by January averaged gains of 2.5 percentage points, CPS data showed.

Others called CPS analysis “misleading.”

Three of the five longer-day "Pioneer Schools" actually posted worse gains than the system. Two went down; one (Skinner North) showed no change in its 100 percent passing rate but dropped 10.5 percentage points in its "exceeding state standards" rate. Two went up -- including Fiske Elementary, where the passing rate jumped a massive 11.8 percentage points.

Of the 12 schools that started a longer day by January, half had better gains than the system and half had worse.

Some 220 elementary schools that did not receive up to $150,000 per school and teacher stipends to institute a longer day also beat the systemwide average gain, a Chicago Sun-Times analysis showed.

CPS Chief of Instruction Jennifer Cheatham said she was “excited” about the “promising” longer day results but cautioned that “I think it’s hard to attribute the [longer] school day in isolation to test score gains.’’ Also important, Cheatham said, was what schools did with the time and the “quality of their implementation.’’

The system will be “looking closely’’ at the longer day Pioneer Schools, for “lessons both positive and negative,’’ Cheatham said.

Barbara Radner of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education called the CPS analysis “distorted,’’ as it drew averages from only a handful of schools with widely mixed results.

“This is inaccurate, misleading and dangerous,’’ Radner said. “Clearly the minutes were not the magic….

“Other schools without the 90 minutes did better. So the question is, what should schools do with the minutes they do have? The question is what is the best way to teach kids, not how many minutes do you have.

“The emperor has no clothes. I would call this a failed experiment.’’

Jonathan Goldman of Chicago Parents for Quality Education said that with so many longer-day schools “going in the wrong direction,’’ the results “call into question” CPS’s decision to go to a longer day systemwide next year, especially when it is emptying its reserve fund piggy bank to balance its budget.

“Turnaround” schools outfitted with new staff and managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership grew by nearly three times the district average, state data crunched by CPS indicated.

But charter schools — whose $76 million planned expansion drew boos and hisses at recent budget hearings — posted increases that were only fractionally better than the district average and than non-charters that do not share the private-school-like freedoms charters enjoy.

An extensive CPS power point on test score results did not include the gains at the 21 charter elementary schools that received an extra $75,000 each and $800 teacher stipends to institute a longer day in January.

University of Chicago professor Timothy Knowles, a member of the system’s Longer School Day Advisory Committee, said the mixed longer day results do not mean a longer day is “the wrong idea.’’

“What it means is we should learn from the places that made the most progress and apply what we learn citywide,’’ said Knowles, director of the Urban Education Institute.

But “on aggregate — for CPS and the charters as a whole — the results are basically flat. There is no cause for celebration,” Knowles said.

Pioneer elementary schools received extra money and teacher stipends to move to a 7½ hour school day this past school year, up from 5¾ hours previously. However, following a host of parent complaints, Emanuel later rolled back the effort for next school year to seven hours in elementary schools.

CPS spokeswoman Becky Carroll pointed to the positives in the longer day results.

“Composite scores, whether districtwide or a subset of schools, include schools that [gained] or lost ground in growth. The fact is that Pioneer Schools on the whole, but especially those who launched at the start of the school year, far outpaced the district’s average on student growth and that’s a testament to the hard work of principals and teachers who embraced this opportunity,’’ Carroll said.

Preliminary CPS data indicate that districtwide, 74.2 percent of third through eighth-graders passed their Illinois Standards Achievement Tests this spring by at least “meeting’’ state standards.

However, only 17.8 percent “exceeded” state standards--a tougher bar CPS has been pushing for several years. Both the “meeting” and “exceeding’’ gains were the smallest since 2005.

Systemwide reading and science scores each showed upticks of only .8 of a percentage point, to just over 70 percent passing. Math scores were up 1 percentage point, to 79.2 percent passing.

Gains could have been impacted by the phase-out of some reforms and the groundwork laid to start others, including a more rigorous curriculum and tougher standards for instruction, CPS officials said.

Andrew Broy, president of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said the 1.2 percentage point increase in charter school performance does not indicate next year’s planned $76 million charter expansion is a bad investment in a severely cash-strapped year.

Some $40 million of the increase is tied to 4,000 more charter students, and the remainder will help restore the 4 percent charter funding cut CPS implemented three years ago, Broy said.

“The fundamental flaw is looking at the districtwide average,’’ Broy said. “No parent sends their child to a districtwide-average school. They send them to a neighborhood school. When you compare charters to their neighborhood schools, the vast majority do quite well.”

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