Like reconstitution, which was tried three years ago at seven high schools, intervention provides for the expedited removal of staff found wanting. However, this time, the board is sending in teams of veteran teachers in various subject areas to work with their colleagues in the intervention schools first. By law, teachers and other staffers have a year to demonstrate their ability. Under reconstitution, they were judged on the basis of brief interviews.
Under Hellen DeBerry’s leadership, the number of Earhart Elementary students scoring at or above grade level in reading jumped from 33 percent to 75 percent in seven years. After she left Earhart, the board tried to install her as principal at South Loop Elementary, but the LSC voted against her contract. Last year, she spent seven months as an associate principal at Gage Park High. DeBerry, who is team leader at Orr High, was the first on board the intervention staff when it was launched in mid-June. Her team has already ordered $300,000 in new textbooks to replace outdated or missing books. Intervention is an opportunity for teachers at Orr to reach high standards and finally correct what has plagued the school, DeBerry says. “Nobody’s job is in jeopardy. It’s theirs to lose.”
Margaret Small, former director of UIC’s Interactive Mathematics Project, has been named co-director of the Young Women’s Leadership Charter School. The other co-director is Mary Ann Pitcher, a teacher from Harper High. … Kay Kirkpatrick, formerly director of communications at the Consortium on Chicago School Research, has been named assistant dean for strategic communications for the School of Social Service Administration at the University of Chicago.
To guard against grade inflation, the board is dispatching monitors to make sure that schools, particularly low-scoring ones, aren’t giving too many A’s and B’s. In the short run, that could keep schools from slacking off. In the long run, though, it will only defeat the board’s stated goal of teaching all students to high standards. If the board is serious about that goal, all students should have the opportunity to get A’s and B’s. Otherwise, the school system is simply continuing the student sorting game that historically has blocked advancement for poor and minority children.
While deeply critical of many elements of Chicago’s current testing and accountability program, participants also believed the program has been key to improving Chicago’s public schools over the past four years. For all its shortcomings, the program is credited, often reluctantly, with having motivated students, parents and teachers to work harder. No one indicated any desire to return to the time when students were promoted regardless of their effort or achievement and schools were not pressured to help students succeed.
Standardized and authentic assessment are now forging ahead on parallel fronts. Sam Meisels, a University of Michigan education professor with a concentration in assessment, observes that even as many states and districts have adopted standardized tests for accountability programs, others have expanded the use of authentic methods for their instructional worth. “We’re moving in both directions now,” he says.
At 160 facilities and some 100,000 students, the Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) is roughly one-fourth the size of the Chicago system, yet it bears many of the same features, notably a largely minority and low-income student population. For the last few years, Milwaukee—now fabled for its experiment with school choice—has also been trying out a varied method of assessment, called “learning proficiencies,” that combines tests, performance tasks, projects, papers and oral presentations.
The policy has borne fruit in rising test scores, greater success in summer school and glowing public notice, notably a mention by President Clinton in his 1999 State of the Union message. “The Iowa scores are a good predictor, and parents and people in general are comfortable with them,” insists Philip Hansen, the schools’ chief accountability officer.