Researchers: ACT ‘not a test you can game’

Schools CEO Arne Duncan last summer sought to temper the news of disappointing ACT scores by talking up the district’s investment in strategic improvements, highlighting some $3.5 million earmarked for test preparation. Later, after the school year began, high school officials say they quietly decided to “repurpose” that money to ramp up the curriculum. A study released by the Consortium on Chicago School Research this week shows test preparation activities, especially those done during class time, do not improve scores on the ACT.

‘A rude awakening’

A junior at Global Visions High School blogs about day-to-day classroom experiences with ACT test prep. Taking yoga to relieve stress a couple days before the test was a highlight. The lack of instruction and preparation in science was the biggest frustration. Overall, test prep was boring and the ACT itself “was the hardest test I ever took in my life.”

Not just Chicago anymore

A Catalyst Chicago analysis finds that African-American and Latino students in the six-county Chicago metro area lag behind their white classmates, especially in wealthy school districts. Suburban schools are launching academic interventions to close the academic gap, but one expert notes the need to change attitudes as well.

Westcott takes the plunge

Westcott Elementary was one of 10 schools to participate in the district’s pay-for-performance pilot. If teachers can raise test scores and pass performance evaluations, they will take home an average of $2,000 in extra pay. Catalyst looks at the school’s first year testing out the incentive-pay model.

Plainfield: A boom in diversity

A spike in diversity is taking place in fast-growing Plainfield District 202. Since 2003,
Latino enrollment is up 3,200 students and African-American enrollment
is up 1,100 students, increases that outpace all other metro-area
districts. The percentage of low-income students, though still small,
has nearly tripled. English-language learners have increased six-fold.

Elgin: Coping with culture shock

Illinois’ second-largest district, Elgin U-46 is going through an
extended bout of culture shock. Like several older, industrial areas in
the Chicago metropolitan area, the communities it serves have seen an influx of low-income Latinos. During the 1990s,
the student body was predominantly white, but changing fast. Today, the
district is one of the most diverse in the state, with no majority
racial or ethnic group. Yet, as in most districts, Latinos and blacks trail their white and
Asian peers academically. And unlike Chicago, Elgin U46 makes
comparatively little progress with its students of color.

Teach for America goes to preschool

Teach for America, the national program that sends top-tier college
graduates to teach in high-needs public schools, has a new mission:
Early childhood education. Chicago is the largest effort, with 21 Teach for America teachers now
committed for two years to community-based early childhood programs on
the South and West sides.

Comings and Goings

RENAISSANCE FUNDING  
Starting this fall, new and existing Renaissance 2010 schools will have
to pay more to use district facilities. The fee, which covers
maintenance, custodial services, utilities and technology services,
will increase from $775 per student for elementary schools and $1,025
per student for high schools to $930 and $1,351 per pupil, respectively.

Pushing ‘big picture’ reform

Anew coalition of community groups is working to involve parents in what has been a controversial initiative: school turnaround efforts on the West Side. There, three small high schools at the Orr campus will close in June and reopen this fall as one high school, and two feeder elementary schools will get an academic overhaul, too.

Saying YES to helping delinquent teens

A new dropout prevention program aims to smooth the transition from detention center to high school and will also
provide participating schools with resources
to address the needs of students whose behavior and academic records
indicate they are most at-risk for dropping out and, perhaps, falling
into the juvenile justice system.

Merit pay has kinks

When Chicago Public Schools rolled out its performance-based pay plan
for teachers, the district tapped into a national trend in school
improvement strategy.

Q&A with Bill Milliken

Communities In Schools bills itself as the country’s largest dropout
prevention organization and envisions schools as the center of a
community. Bill Milliken founded the organization more than 30 years
ago. On a recent visit to Chicago, he sat down with Catalyst Associate
Editor Sarah Karp and Consulting Editor Cindy Richards to talk about
his legacy.

Catalyst Chicago is changing

We at Catalyst have spent much
of the past year exploring ways to serve you and, therefore, our city’s
children better. Our new vision is an expansive one that is based on
what more than 200 people told us in interviews, focus groups and
surveys. As we plunge into a new future, we ask you to help us out.
Please share your ideas and your reactions to our efforts.