Test scores barely inch up

Print More

Scores on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test inched up in the 2011-2012 school year, but less than in previous years, while the administration’s signature initiative to lengthen the school day showed little impact.

Only two of five schools that piloted a longer day starting last September posted increases in test scores. One school, already high-performing, remained about the same; another high-performing school posted a small dip in scores. Meanwhile, one low-achieving school posted a decrease in test scores.

Districtwide, the percentage of students meeting and exceeding standards increased by just 0.9 percentage points, to 74.2 percent, while the percentage of students exceeding standards grew by 0.7 points, to 17.8 percent.

This year’s gains are the smallest in the last six years, and substantially smaller than those posted last year, when scores went up by 3.8 percentage points. And while 3rd through 5th graders made gains, fewer students in 6th and 7th grade met standards than last year.

Jennifer Cheatham, chief of instruction at CPS, acknowledged the gains were “incremental” and called them “a symptom of an approach that’s been in place for some time now in CPS.”

“Districts often try isolated strategies – something here, something there – and if they don’t get immediate results they drop those strategies in favor of something else,” which is particularly common among large urban districts, Cheatham said.

But she asserted that CEO Jean-Claude Brizard’s administration is going to be different. This year, she said, CPS has laid the foundation for approaches that she believes will lead to faster and more long-term gains, through programs like the longer day, new teacher evaluations, and new curricula based on the Common Core State Standards.

To some degree, ISAT have little significance anymore. Brizard has emphasized that state test standards are too low, pointing out that elementary students must score at the “exceeds standards” level in order to be well-positioned for high school success.

The ISAT is slated to be eventually phased out as the state launches a new state assessment, based on the Common Core Standards and developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), in the 2014-15 school year.

Starting this fall, CPS will require students at all elementary schools, including charter schools, to take the more difficult NWEA test. Teachers will be evaluated on student performance, and the district’s performance policy may eventually incorporate it as well. This year’s NWEA and Scantron test results are not available yet.

Since last fall, the district has offered schools optional multiple-choice tests based on the Common Core, but officials say they have no plans to release data on how well students are doing on those tests

CAVEAT ON LONGER DAY

Officials touted the fact that overall, five schools that started a longer day last in September – Disney II Magnet, Fiske, Nash, Skinner North, and Brown – had average gains of 6.6 percentage points on the ISAT composite.

But on a school-by-school basis, two of the five saw their scores decrease.

Cheatham called the results “promising” but acknowledged that “we know that nothing can be attributed to any single strategy in isolation.”

All together, schools with longer days (including those that began in January) posted average gains of 2.5 percentage points, according to the district.

Turnaround schools managed by the Academy for Urban School Leadership (Sherman, Harvard, Howe, Morton, Dulles, Johnson, Bethune, Bradwell, Deneen, and Curtis) saw an increase of 2.5 percentage points in the number of students meeting state standards.

That’s higher than the district average, but also the smallest increase AUSL schools have posted since 2007. Last year, they posted nearly 10-point gains. Scores at Bethune, Howe, and Deneen slipped slightly.

Overall, just 64 percent of students at turnaround schools are meeting state standards, with fewer than 9 percent of students exceeding them.

Charter schools posted slightly higher gains than the district average, with a 1.2-point increase in the percentage of students meeting state standards, to 76.6 percent.

When asked whether that justified the district’s expanding investment in charters in this year’s budget, spokeswoman Becky Carroll said that “our job is to not only help build high-quality schools, but expand the number of choices.”

Starting in August, CPS will announce a new accountability system that applies to both charter schools and neighborhood schools. The accountability policy determines which schools are on probation, and which are eligible for closure or turnaround.

The achievement gap between African-American and Latino students and white students narrowed by fractions of a percentage point – insignificant when considering that close to 90 percent of white students meet or exceed state standards, compared to just 68 percent of African-American students and 75 percent of Latino students.

More alarmingly, the achievement gap widened by a larger margin–one and a half percentage points—among students exceeding state standards:  54 percent of white students exceed state standards, compared to 12 percent of African-American students and 16 percent of Latinos.

This article has been updated to correct the list of schools that started the longer day in September, and include information about those schools’ gains.