Test Scores

February 22, 2006

NAEP: Chicago lags behind other cities

One test that is administered nationally—the National Assessment of Educational Progress or NAEP—shows how students here are doing compared to their peers in other large urban districts. Chicago doesn't stack up, even when differences in student population are taken into account.

On the 4th-grade reading exam, Chicago posted one of the lowest pass rates for low-income students, beating only Atlanta, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. Even so, that was better than the city's results for better-off students, where Chicago tied for last place with Los Angeles and San Diego.

Pass rates
Low-income

Middle-income

Nation
46%

77%

New York
53

80

Charlotte
49

82

Boston
47

69

Austin
46

82

Houston
43

79

San Diego
42

68

Cleveland
38

NA*

CHICAGO

35

68

Los Angeles
31

68

Atlanta
29

77

DC
25

59

*100% of Cleveland students are low-income.

Source: National Center for Education Statistics

PSAE: High school scores up but racial gap worse

Until last year, scores on the reading portion of the Prairie State Achievement Exams (PSAE) showed little progress since the test was introduced in 2001. Then last year, a sudden 6 percentage point bump up. That's because freshmen who were in the first class to receive extra reading supports in 2002 were those taking the test last spring, says Donald Pittman, CPS chief officer of high school programs.

Science scores have shown steady progress, and math scores have nudged up a bit.

Yet, troubling racial gaps have gotten worse.

While pass rates are up for all ethnic groups, scores for African-American students lag behind. In math, every group of students except African Americans have higher pass rates today than they did in 2002, the first year that test score data were disaggregated by race.

The Consortium on Chicago School Research notes that high school performance overall is even worse considering the Prairie State tests are taken in 11th grade, after presumably weaker students have already dropped out. Only 53 percent of CPS students who entered 9th grade in fall 2000 took the PSAE within four years, writes researcher Steve Ponisciak.

Results up in nearly every high school

Pass rates for three subjects on the Prairie State—reading, math and science— went up for nearly every school. Only 11 posted declines between 2001 and 2005.

LARGEST GAINS LARGEST DECLINES
Chicago Int'l Charter +26 Sullivan -5
Jones College Prep +24 Kenwood Academy

-12

Chicago Agricultural +23 Best Practices -13

ITBS, ISAT: Elementary scores inch higher

Until recently, elementary school students took two standardized tests every year: the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which measures their performance against national averages, and the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, an indication of how they stack up to certain academic benchmarks. On both, citywide scores are slowly rising.

District officials point to their ongoing reading initiative, but other experts credit a fear factor linked to more stringent local accountability policies, such as holding students back for low scores in 3rd, 6th and 8th grades, and sanctions imposed by the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Disaggregated by race, scores show marked disparities that have held steady for the past seven years.

ITBS: Slow progress at lowest-scoring schools

In 1996 and 1997, 85 elementary schools were placed on probation because fewer than 15 percent of their students scored at or above national norms in reading. By 2005, 28 percent of the students in the 68 schools that remained open scored at or above average, according to the research and advocacy group Designs for Change.

Of those, only six schools exceeded the School Board's current probation cutoff score, which is 40 percent. Designs for Change cites this data as evidence that the probation program is ineffective. Citywide, the percentage of elementary students scoring at or above average rose from 35 percent in 1997 to 44 percent in 2005.

A Catalyst analysis of the same reading scores shows the following gains.

1997

2005

Elementary schools with fewer than 15% at/above national norms in reading
29

3

Average pass rate at schools in the bottom quarter citywide.
17%

24%

Elementary schools with fewer than 40% students at/above national norms
355 (73%)

250 (49%)

Source: Designs for Change, Catalyst analysis of ITBS scores