Summer school dropped for lagging freshmen

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The School Reform Board has dropped summer school for high school freshmen who fail to meet test-score targets in reading and math or who fail courses.

New board policies have made summer school for low-scoring freshmen

unnecessary, according to Blondean Davis of the Office of Schools and Regions. She notes minimum test scores required for high school enrollment and “freshmen academies” that provide a more “nurturing instructional climate.”

At a press conference, Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney also noted that in the wake of poor attendance among freshmen assigned to the summer Bridge program, the board decided funds would be better spent elsewhere. About $9.3 million had been budgeted for last summer’s program for 9th-graders.

Previously, the board decided to give high schools a modest amount of extra money to help lagging 9th-graders. The amount ranges from $30,000 to $70,000, depending on a school’s enrollment. Acceptable uses include after-school tutoring, remedial reading courses or extra courses that would allow students to make up for course failures.

Under the board’s original promotion policy, 9th-graders who failed to meet certain scores on the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP) were assigned to the summer Bridge program and retested at the end of it. If their scores still didn’t measure up, they were to be retained as freshmen.

In practice, though, low-scoring freshmen who passed their courses went on to take sophomore-level courses.

“Obviously we wouldn’t require a student to retake algebra because he got a low score on the TAP; he would go on to geometry,” notes William McGowan of the Office of Schools and Regions. “The only consequence of failing [the retest] was to be retained in a freshman division.”

McGowan speculates that this reality contributed to the poor showing for the freshman Bridge program. “Probably some of them felt the consequences were not severe enough, and they may not have attended for that reason.”

Last summer, 11,458 9th-graders were told they had to go to summer school because of low test scores, but only 6,698 ended up taking the retest in August, according to board figures. Of those, 3,197 passed and 3,501 failed.

The Reform Board eliminated the summer school requirement for freshmen at its Sept. 23 meeting. In its place, the board adopted a set of criteria for entrance to what it is calling “senior academy.” They are:

A minimum score of 8.8 in reading and math on the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency, a performance level roughly equivalent to the end of 8th grade.

Passing grades on the district’s end-of-course exams.

11 course credits.

A recommendation from the high school advisory teacher and principal.

Fewer than 20 days of unexcused absences or out-of-school suspension days each year.

Under the board’s plan, students typically would enter senior academy at the end of their sophomore year.

However, sophomores who had passed sophomore-level courses would go on to take junior-level courses—even if they didn’t meet the other entrance requirements for senior academy. For such students, the practical impact of failing to achieve senior academy is that they would not be eligible for advanced placement classes, courses offered at local colleges and other outside programs, according to Chief Accountability Officer Philip Hansen.

In addition, current plans call for graduates of senior academy to get a “certificate of mastery” in addition to a diploma. That would allow higher-achieving students to earn a credential that “means something,” yet not prevent thousands of lower-achieving students from graduating, Hansen explains.

The goal of the emerging two-tiered system is to motivate students to strive for higher achievement and to elevate the status of a Chicago Public Schools diploma. “We need to make sure that a diploma stands for something substantive,” he stresses.

The board expects the “certificate of mastery” to give students an edge with employers and colleges, he notes. Eventually, the board would like to work out an agreement with area colleges and universities to grant automatic admission to students who have met certain standards, he adds.

Hansen says that the board’s programs, taken as a whole, may make it possible eventually to hold all students to high standards. He notes efforts to raise achievement in elementary schools, stricter requirements for high school admission and extra support for freshmen. Eventually, he says, students who do not meet senior academy requirements may not be allowed to graduate.

Higher cutoffs

On Sept. 23, the board also raised cutoff scores for admission to high school from 7.2 to 7.4 in both math and reading. The board could not immediately say how many more students would have been retained in 8th grade this year if the 7.4 cutoff had been in effect.

However, last year, when it raised cutoff scores from 6.8 to 7.2, an additional 719 students were retained, for a total of 3,039. (Cutoff scores for promotion from grades 3 and 6 will remain at 2.8 and 5.3, respectively, in reading and math.)

The board has decided that the new requirements for admission to the senior academy will not apply to this year’s freshman class, but it has not decided when they will go into effect.

Hansen says the board first wants to see the results of the end-of-course tests that will be given next spring to 9th- and 10th-graders. When the tests were piloted with 9th-graders last year, most students failed three out of four tests.

Next spring, sophomores also will take the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency to provide baseline data for the senior academy program. Hansen notes that their scores will not be figured into calculations dealing with school probation. The following year, TAP testing will be dropped for 11th-graders.