14 high schools with improved TAP scores could exit probation

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Based on preliminary results on the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP), over a dozen high schools are eligible to be removed from probation, more than double the number to have achieved that in the four years the sanction has been in place. To get off probation, at least 20 percent of students required to take the TAP—in high schools, that’s now freshmen and sophomores—must score at or above national norms in reading.

The city’s 34 probation high schools gained an average of 5.2 points in the percentage of students hitting the mark. This average excludes Vaughn Occupational, which serves special education students exempted from testing. Only three probation schools showed declines in TAP reading scores, the primary but no longer sole factor determining probation status.

The Office of Accountability’s high school reading team saw five of its school clients score well enough to make the eligibility list: Austin, Calumet, Fenger, Juarez and Hirsch. “Hard work paid off,” says Mary Dunne, director of the reading team. “We just couldn’t be happier. We have exceeded our expectations.”

Marshall High, which Catalyst reported on in its May 2000 issue, did not score high enough to get off probation, but the percentage of its students at or above national norms hit double digits for the first time in over a decade, rising 5.7 points to 13.8 percent.

Manley High, also featured in the May issue, showed impressive gains in the first year of an intensive project to improve instruction. The Integrated Reading and Writing Across the Curriculum project provides full-time coaches in core subject areas to work with the faculty. In year one, the school’s reading scores rose 9.1 percentage points to 15.9 percent, the highest level in more than a decade.

“We are excited and pleased by this substantial increase in the students’ achievement test scores, but we know we still have a long way to go,” says Connie Bridge, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who directs the new effort. “We won’t be satisfied until at least half of the students meet national norms. … Our focus is on student learning, not just test scores.”

Test scores no longer are the sole criterion for high schools to get off probation, either. (See Catalyst, June 1999.) “In July we will review their attendance rates and dropout rates and make a final decision on probation removal at that time,” says Chief Accountability Officer Philip Hansen. “Schools will be officially notified prior to the opening of school in August. We initiated this plan so that a school could not go above 20 percent by dropping out more kids.”