CASE closed, new exam in the works

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CPS is developing a new standards test—it could be piloted this spring—to replace the Chicago Academic Standards Exams (CASE) that it scrapped in December.

The district is planning to hire a test publishing company to design the new high school course content tests, says Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins. “We want to do this right,” she says. “We’re trying to find a couple who’ve done some work with high school districts.”

CPS is in discussions with at least two companies: Educational Testing Service (ETS) and WestEd, one of 10 nonprofit Regional Educational Laboratories created by federal education law.

Both companies have experience developing high school tests. ETS—best known for creating the SAT college entrance exam—is currently under contract with the California Department of Education to develop, administer and score a statewide high school exit exam. The test, which includes English and mathematics, is aligned with state standards and taken by 10th-graders, who must pass both sections to earn a diploma. (The first class of students required to pass this test will graduate in 2004; so far, fewer than half of them have passed both parts of the exam.)

Meanwhile, WestEd has worked on a high school proficiency test for the state of Nevada and has developed questions for elementary and secondary school tests in Kentucky.

In December, CPS announced that it was dumping CASE, a group of standardized final exams in core subjects that were administered system-wide to 9th- and 10th-graders. Last fall, a group of social studies and English teachers from Curie High threatened to not give the tests this winter, complaining that the 4-year-old exams were poorly designed, disconnected from state standards and so time-consuming that they hampered instruction.

Dubbing themselves Curie Teachers for Authentic Assessment, the group met with CPS officials several times last fall. “They said, ‘You’re right, this is bad. We have to do something,'” says teacher Martin McGreal. “They just decided to listen. They didn’t really defend it at all.”

In announcing plans to end CASE, CEO Arne Duncan said he wanted a test that would be better aligned with the state’s Prairie State Achievement Exam, which 11th-graders must take, and that is attuned with the district’s emphasis on reading and writing.

Eason-Watkins says school officials are also discussing ways to integrate the new exams with two other high school tests, PLAN and EXPLORE, that are taken by 9th- and 10th-graders to prepare them for the Prairie State.

Meanwhile, CPS has formed an advisory group to make recommendations on ways to assess student performance and give teachers feedback on the curriculum and their teaching skills. The commission will study how students learn, not just what they learn, officials say.

Samuel Meisels, president of the Erikson Institute, and Donald Stewart, president and CEO of the Chicago Community Trust, will co-chair the commission, which also includes CPS staff, teachers, principals, academics and school reform advocates.