CPS test score gap widens

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The test-score disconnect got a bit wider in 2011, with elementary scores continuing to rise while high school scores dipped. The test-score disconnect got a bit wider in 2011, with elementary scores continuing to rise while high school scores dipped.

The new schools administration has made curriculum alignment from elementary to high schools a priority, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pledged that he would overhaul CPS high schools during his first year in office.

The district announced on Thursday that the percentage of high school students meeting and exceeding state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Examination decreased from 29.3 percent to 28.3 percent in 2011.

On the ACT college entrance exam, which is part of the PSAE, scores were essentially steady at 17.3, dipping by only a tenth of a percent. The state average is 20.

The other part of the PSAE is called the WorkKeys; it tests a student’s ability to understand and be effective in the workplace. It measures skills such as whether a student can read a company manual.   

Elementary scores, released in June, went up about 3 percentage points.

In a first, the Illinois State Board of Education included the scores of who seniors who took the test, which typically is taken junior year. Though they made up less than 1 percent of total 24,000-plus students who took the test, officials said the seniors were partly responsible for the drop.

CPS has not had a program to improve its long-struggling high schools for a number of years. Under former CPS CEO Ron Huberman, area offices used different programs. No evaluation of those programs has been made public.

Pitch for longer day

CPS officials used the release as an opportunity to once again high light the need for a longer school day.

 “Our teachers are working hard to provide their students with a quality education based on all the tools at their disposal, but those tools are not enough,” said CPS CEO Jean-Claude

Brizard in a prepared statement. “Students need more time in the classroom with their teachers and that time needs to be best used to boost student achievement.”

CPS announced the results as Chicago Teachers Union officials and members of the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization called for a “better school day” rather than a longer one.

In a statement, CTU President Karen Lewis stressed that, in order to improve schools, students need to take fewer standardized tests and spend more time on art, writing, music science and physical education.

‘Instruction more important’

Mary Ann Pitcher, co-director of the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago, which worked with one of the area offices, says extended time is part of the answer, though not the entire one.

The quality of what goes on in schools is more important, and that begins with instruction, she says. She says that teachers need intensive feedback to improve their instruction. Though many high school teachers get some coaching, they may not be getting enough.

“The research says teachers need six pieces of feedback, or six opportunities to reflect on their practice, for one [teaching] strategy alone,” Pitcher says. “Some of our teachers would be lucky to get six pieces of feedback over the course of a year.”

One highlight of the scores was that the turnaround schools did markedly better on the PSAE. Turnaround schools were among the lowest performing schools in the district and had their entire staffs replaced. On the PSAE, students at Orr, Phillips, Marshall, Fenger and Harper improved by 4 percentage points; on the ACT they scored half a point better.

Over all, the biggest decreases were in reading and English, while math and science held steady.

Also, charter high schools as a whole lagged behind military schools and magnet schools and did not see much of an increase in students meeting or exceeding standards.