Chicago high school test scores stall, including those at transformation schools

September 15, 2009

Sometime over the past week, CPS officials quietly posted the 2009 Prairie State and ACT test scores. They didn’t hold a press conference or even issue a release, as is the custom. And it is no wonder. Scores on both exams stagnated this year.

Sometime over the past week, CPS officials quietly posted the 2009 Prairie State and ACT test scores. They didn’t hold a press conference or even issue a release, as is the custom. And it is no wonder.

Scores on both exams stagnated this year. And the scores for juniors who have been part of the district’s High School Transformation project since their freshmen year were no better, and in some cases worse, than their predecessors.

The district average ACT composite score inched down from 17.3 in 2008 to 17 last year and the percent of students meeting or exceeding state standards on the Prairie State rose ever so slightly, from 27.9 percent to 28.5 percent. The federal No Child Left Behind Act calls for 70 percent of students to meet standards this year.

The results of these exams were supposed to be the first definitive test of High School Transformation, built on a foundation of new, more-rigorous curricula and teacher training.

But the average ACT score for the 13 schools that started teaching the curricula in 2006 remained at 15.5—way below the 20 needed to get into a selective college. (A 14th school—Mose Vines, a small school that was on the Orr campus—was also part of the original group, but the school was absorbed into Orr last year. Orr is now a turnaround school.)

Only two of the transformation schools—Carver Military and Chicago Military in Bronzeville—saw more than a 1 percentage point increase in their ACT score since 2006. But as well, during this time the two schools have implemented a selective admissions process that also changed the caliber of the students entering.

Over the past year, there have been many indications that the $80 million High School Transformation was not the success that officials hoped. The first-year evaluation report pinpointed many implementation problems, such as high absenteeism among students and a need for better-prepared teachers. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which gave the district $21 million for the program, not only stopped funding it, but also pulled their support from future evaluation reports.

However, Chief Education Officer Barbara Eason-Watkins has previously said the district is committed to continuing the project, including supporting the curricula. She also said previously that the ACT and PSAE scores showed some promise.