When Chicago Public Schools announced an increase in high school test scores, the focus was on the percent of students scoring at or above the national average. However, there was improvement at the lower end of the scale as well.

Last school year, 53 percent of freshmen and juniors scored in the bottom quartile in reading on the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP). What this means is that their scores were in the bottom 25 percent of those posted by students who made up the national sample against which TAP test-takers are measured. This school year, however, the percentage in the bottom quartile dropped to 46 percent, meaning 7 percent had, in effect, moved up to the second quartile.

The same thing happened in math. Last school year, 54 percent of freshmen and sophomores scored in the bottom quartile; this school year, the percentage dropped to 46, meaning 8 percent had moved up.

There were slight increases in the percentage of high-scoring students, too. In reading, the percentage of freshmen and sophomores in the top quartile rose from 8 percent to 9 percent; in math, it rose from 6 percent to 10 percent.

These increases came despite an increase in the number of students taking the test, which tends to depress test scores. About an additional 2,100 students took the TAP tests this year.

School officials cite a number of reasons for the increased scores, which in math hit their highest level this decade: A new promotion policy requires students at four grade levels to attend summer school if they don’t hit target test scores in reading and math—for freshmen, it’s 8.0, or the level expected at the beginning of 8th grade. A beefed-up attendance unit increased the number of students in school each day. A probation program brought extra resources and pressure to low-scoring schools. Extra money enabled some schools to provide extra help to freshmen.

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