Analysis of selective schools data shows poorer students have tougher time gaining admission

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When CPS laid out its new magnet and selective enrollment admissions
policy, the chief worry among community activists, lawyers and parents
was that it would wind up favoring well-off students, who already have
many advantages.
When CPS laid out its new magnet and selective enrollment admissions policy, the chief worry among community activists, lawyers and parents was that it would wind up favoring well-off students, who already have many advantages.

The data released on Wednesday for the district’s nine selective enrollment high schools shows that at least some of those concerns were warranted.

Under the new process 40 percent of the students were to be admitted based on composite scores that take into account standardized test scores and grades. The maximum composite score this year was 900.

The remaining 60 percent of seats were to be divided equally among four tiers of students from similar socio-economic backgrounds. So, for example, students in the richest socio-economic tier were to be competing against other students in the same tier.

The concern was that high-performing, well-off students would gain a disproportionate share of seats based on composite scores, and then get more seats through the tier process. Meanwhile, lower-performing, poorer students would only really be competitive for the 15 percent of seats reserved for their tier.

CPS officials declined to release detailed racial or socio-economic data on students who got offer letters from the nine selective enrollment high schools.

But CPS officials did release other information on composite scores and tiers. Here’s what we learned on Wednesday:

The principals of Lindblom, Whitney Young and Northside College Prep asked the district to let them set a specific cut score for students. But the cut score eliminated students who were set to be admitted from the poorest tier. As a result, none of the three schools completely filled their seats for that tier.

At the four best selective enrollment high schools—Northside Prep, Whitney Young, Walter Payton and Jones—there was a big difference in composite scores for students from the richest tier and the poorest. At Jones, the highest-scoring student from the poorest tier scored only one point better than the lowest-scoring student from the richest tier.

Meanwhile, at the three other selective enrollment high schools–Westinghouse, King and Lindblom–the scores were similar, regardless of which tier the student came from.

 CPS officials are trying to figure out how to alter the process so that composite scores won’t shut students from the poorest socio-economic tiers out of the best schools. General Counsel Patrick Rocks said officials are giving some consideration to taking the two highest-scoring students from each elementary school and guaranteeing them a spot in a selective enrollment high school.

Huberman said the policy implemented this past winter will only be in place for one year and that CPS officials will conduct public hearings to come up with an improved process for the future. CPS spent $900,000 to have a private firm come up with the socio-economic and census tract data used for the current policy.