Take 5: ISAT scores stagnant, college disparities, consultants with clout

Print More

CPS did not have a major announcement about this year’s state test scores–and it turns out the scores remain exactly the same as last year’s, with 52.5 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards. Whatever the caveats, the figures and the lack of upward movement don’t look good, especially with the district about to move to a new, more difficult exam aligned to the tougher Common Core standards.Also, the achievement gap widened: average scores for black and Latino students fell slightly, while white and Asian students posted tiny gains.

With the state officially releasing report cards on Friday, CPS finally posted ISAT information on district and individual school performance on its website. Historically, CPS would release the scores some time over the summer.

Scores on the NWEA,  another test that CPS students must also take, have not been released by race.

2. Welcoming schools worse off… Catalyst’s analysis shows that 35 of 52 schools, or more than two-thirds of the official welcoming schools that took in children displaced by closings, posted decreases in ISAT scores. Perhaps the most disturbing part is that the highest-performing welcoming schools saw the biggest drops. The top 10 welcoming schools in 2012-2013–the year before the closings–saw an average of a 17 percentage point decrease on the ISAT. Only one–Hefferan–did not have a significant decrease.

For example, Leland, a small kindergarten through third-grade school in Austin, had nearly 80 percent of third-graders meeting or exceeding standards in 2012-2013. Last year, only 33 percent of third graders met or exceeded standards. Another school, Courtenay, was a small school where more than 70 percent of students met or exceeded standards. It was combined with Stockton, a poor-performing school. Many Courtenay parents were outraged and took their children out. The result was that Courtenay was no longer the same school–and scores dropped 20 percent in just one year.

The Chicago Sun-Times concludes that, when using ISAT data as a barometer,  the performance of welcoming schools was a mixed bag at best. Six of the eight CPS schools that saw the biggest decreases in meeting/exceeding on the ISAT were welcoming schools. However, some (about 10) official welcoming schools saw increases in ISAT scores.

The Sun-Times points out that one of Byrd-Bennett’s promises was that students would wind up in better schools. Confronted with the analysis, CPS officials just e-mailed a statement, saying  that the district “continues to work to offer all students a high-quality education.”

The results are especially disappointing considering the district spent $285 million at welcoming schools. This money paid for iPADs, computers, long-needed renovations and labs for schools that were designated as International Baccalaureate or STEM, as well as extra staff and resources to help with the transition.

3. Opt-out info… That students were forced to take the ISAT, even though it won’t be used for accountability purposes, sparked a big, embarrassing opt-out push. CPS officials downplayed the number of students who opted out, but activist parents say they think about 2,000 students sat out the test.

This is important for the upcoming year when CPS students will again be forced to take two standardized tests in the spring. The state will be using the PARCC for accountability purposes and the district will use the NWEA. Byrd-Bennett says she wants to delay districtwide implementation of the PARCC, perhaps in hopes of avoiding another opt-out push.

Activists hoped to use the ISAT information posted Friday to prove their point that a lot of students opted out. Overall, about 5,000 fewer students took the ISAT in 2013 than did in 2014, while only 1,800 fewer third to eighth graders were enrolled in CPS schools. Yet there could be many reasons for the number of ISAT test takers to be low, such as more students taking the alternative test for disabled students. More Than A Score leader Cassie Creswell says she will submit a Freedom of Information Act to request for the actual numbers.

The numbers indicate that at some schools the push to have students opt-out was successful. At Saucedo, where teachers took a stand against the ISAT, the number of students who took the ISAT dropped from 765 to 247, though the school had more third to eighth grade students. Also at Drummond, a Montessori magnet school on the North Side, so few students took the ISAT that CPS did not post detailed information about performance following a policy that the district shields categories of less than 10 students. Though about 176 students were enrolled in third through eighth grade at Drummond, only 31 students took the ISAT.

4. College disconnect… The Chicago Tribune focused their coverage of the school report card release on the disconnect between the number of students who are college-ready. Statewide, within 16 months of graduating from high school, 70 percent of students enrolled in college. Yet only 25 percent of students were college-ready according to the ACT definition, and only 46 percent according to the state’s definition. The Tribune quotes Elaine Allensworth from the Consortium on Chicago School Research who notes that high-stakes tests are not the only factor that determine whether someone does well in college.  The report cards do not include information on college persistence, but studies have shown that grades, not test scores, are a better predictor of whether students stay in college.  

The Tribune also points out CPS had a below-average college-going rate of 67 percent, but that the selective enrollment schools had some of the highest rates in the state. On average,  only 27 percent of CPS students were deemed college- ready. The highest college-going rate was at Catlin High School in Vermilion County, east of Champaign. However,  most students are not “college ready” and go to the local community college. Glenbrook South is one of the few districts that doesn’t have a disparity in college-readiness and college-going. 

5. Clout consultants… The Sun-Times reports this morning about dozens of high paid, politically connected consultants working as employees or subcontractors with CPS contracts to manage “small renovation projects” done by other contractors. Among two examples are former CPS COO Sean Murphy and former CTA Chief Operating Officer Richard Rodriguez. Murphy gets paid a whopping $388,000 as the subcontractor to URS Corporation. That is a good deal more than he made while working for CPS and more than Byrd-Bennett makes. Rodriquez, who currently serves as chairman for the UNO Charter School Network, works for Lend Lease, which has been paid $10.9 million by CPS since 2012.

While the fact that these guys are politically connected is worrisome, the story also begs the question of whether the district could get this work done for far less than it is paying. It also reminds us that CPS still only has an interim inspector general, even though it has four months since the former inspector general resigned.