WebExtra: More students pass new test given at the end of summer school

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More students passed the end-of-summer school tests this year, after the district adopted a new standardized test used to determine whether students are promoted, according to an analysis of preliminary figures released in early September.

The slight increase in pass rates came even though Chicago Public Schools reinstated math performance as a factor for retention. Last year, 31 percent of students who had to retake the reading test after summer school passed. This year, 35 percent of students who had to retake reading, math or both tests passed.

Compared to last year, 3rd-graders performed slightly worse, while 6th- and 8th-graders improved their performance. Historically, 3rd-graders have posted the lowest standardized test scores.

The test the district now administers at the end of summer is a short version of the SAT 10, a nationally normed standardized test. In the spring, students take a different, customized version of the SAT 10 as part of the ISAT that was redesigned by Harcourt Assessment, the test’s publisher.

Since the district scrapped the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, spring results on the SAT 10 determine whether students must go to summer school. Fewer students were required to go this year when scores rose dramatically on the new test.

Large differences in test results from one year to the next are “extremely unusual” in urban districts, adds Stephen Dunbar, director of Iowa test programs at the University of Iowa. “When they coincide with the introduction of a new test, it’s likely that the tests account for the difference rather than a true change in reading or math skills.”

Although both the Iowa and the SAT 10 rank students against a national sample, their results are simply not comparable, says Ron Dietel, assistant director at the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing at the University of California at Los Angeles. They cover different content and use different national samples, he explains.

The Illinois State Board of Education doesn’t dispute Chicago’s surprising gains but is still analyzing test data to try and understand the cause of the improvement.

The percentage of summer school students who failed but were still promoted under School Board policy also rose this year. Board policy prohibits retaining a student more than once per grade cycle (the cycles are grades 1 to 3, 4 to 6 and 7 to 8).

As of early September, central office could not report the status of 1,400 students because schools had not yet submitted grades and attendance. The majority of those students were likely promoted, according to CPS. Data was missing for a similar number of students at the same time last year.

Students in Chicago as well as the rest of Illinois had an edge on the customized SAT 10 portion of the ISAT: Items were specially selected to match Illinois state learning standards, says Rick Blake, a spokesman for Harcourt Assessment.

“Because the test is 100 percent aligned to the Illinois standards, you would expect better scores than on a test that is not perfectly aligned,” he says.

Daniel Bugler, chief evaluation and accountability research officer for CPS, adds that scores also improved because students were better prepared. For the first time last year, schools gave several assessments throughout the year that were tied to state standards and then filled in the holes in their instruction, he says. “In years past, we waited until the year was over, and gave them what they needed in summer school.”

To contact Elizabeth Duffrin, call (312) 673-3879 or e-mail duffrin@catalyst-chicago.org.