School quality ratings delayed, but no details on why

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Parents picking up their children’s report card today and on Thursday were supposed to find out their school’s rating based on a new, more comprehensive accountability system, but for some reason CPS officials have not released the ratings, nor did they give out the colorful school progress report parents are accustomed to receiving.

Principals use the ratings as a way to market their schools. Also, parents use them to decide which schools to apply to or whether they want to keep their child at their current school. Applications for selective enrollment and magnet schools are due on December 12.

Since 2008, when CPS started rating schools in an attempt to help parents choose among them, the ratings have been released in early fall. The new rating system, which was announced in August 2013, has five levels rather than three and takes into account more factors, including college enrollment and how many students took tests.

In response to questions about why the ratings have not been released yet, CPS issued a vague statement: “CPS has spent considerable time reviewing data and examining the impact of this new system, which has caused a delay in releasing the new ratings. As a result, the school ratings were not included in student report cards. We expect to release more information on the new ratings in the near future.”

The lack of information has fueled speculation that the ratings are being withheld for political reasons or because the ratings are not what leaders expected.  One principal said the delay raises questions about the validity of the ratings.

Parent Andrew Kaplan plans to go to next week’s board meeting to press the district to release the information. Kaplan’s daughter attends Mitchell Elementary School in West Town. He says the school’s attendance rate, among other indicators, has improved. 

“They (the principal and staff) worked their tail off,” says Kaplan, who is involved in the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand. “We expect to do really well. I want them to get credit for their work.”

Kaplan also says it is ridiculous that the ratings are not out since applications for selective schools are due soon. “If there is a problem, CPS owes us some transparency,” he says. “Parents use these ratings to make important decisions about their children’s education.”

Morrill Principal Michael Beyer says that school ratings affect entire communities. He is working with local housing groups to try to bring in developers to rehab foreclosed homes. His school’s neighborhood of Gage Park was hit hard by the housing crisis, he says.

Morrill was rated Level 3, the lowest level, based on 2012-2013 data, but Beyer believes his school will be a Tier 2 school—the second to the highest rating—based on last year’s progress.

“What bothers me is that we are stuck at Level 3,” he says. “We are still considered by parents as a Level 3 school.”

Many suspected that there were problems with the new rating system when, this past August, district officials announced  that they were making a big alteration. After originally touting the fact that the new rating system was more comprehensive and was based on academic research, CPS officials asked the board to allow some schools to be rated solely on test scores.

Under the revised policy, schools will get two ratings: one based on multiple factors and one based solely on test scores. The higher of the two ratings would be their official rank in the district’s 5-tier system.

Under the new performance policy, growth on the NWEA exam counted for 45 percent of the school’s score, but Chief of Accountability John Barker told the board at the time that schools that already have high achievement would have a harder time achieving more growth in scores.

In addition to using the rating system to help parents, the district uses the ratings to to decide which schools will be recommended for closure or turnaround. CPS is now in the second year of its five-year moratorium on closings.