Under Chicago’s new accountability system, the number of schools on probation decreased by six, to a total of 76.

Last year, 53 elementary schools and 28 high schools were on probation. This year, the number of elementary schools on probation dropped to 46, while the high school total rose slightly, to 30.

For high schools, the School Board lowered the cutoff score that puts a school on probation. However, CPS officials say that the new test the system is using for accountability is more challenging than the old one was and therefore, they have not lowered the bar.

In recent years, high schools were placed on probation if fewer than 20 percent of their students scored at or above the national average in reading on the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency (TAP), a nationally standardized test. Now, high schools will be placed on probation if fewer than 15 percent of their students meet standards on the Illinois Prairie State Achievement Exam.

“The TAP was simply a high school reading test,” says Phil Hansen, CPS chief accountability officer. “The PSAE is much more difficult. It measures the high school learning standards [in four subjects] at the 11th grade.”

The probation criteria for elementary schools also changed slightly. Before, elementary schools were placed on probation if fewer than 20 percent of their students scored at or above the national average in reading on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS).

Now, they are placed on probation if fewer than 25 percent of their students meet standards on both the ITBS and Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). But schools that score better than 25 percent on one test or the other can escape probation.

CPS also changed slightly how it helps its lowest-performing schools. It has scrapped probation managers, who provided management support to principals. Instead, the Office of Accountability and the new area instructional offices will provide oversight and guidance. Last year, the board spent $616,500 on probation managers at 91 schools, including 10 in their first year off probation. Probation schools will continue to get external partners and school business interns.

Probation is the lowest of six categories for rating schools. The categories and number of schools in each are:

At the top of the scale, schools of distinction have mid-level to high student achievement and especially strong yearly gains on tests and, at the high school level, freshman passing rates in core courses. High schools of distinction also show declines in their dropout rates. (72 schools)

Schools of excellence have high student achievement but lackluster gains. (74)

Schools of merit have mid-level achievement and lackluster gains. (109)

Schools of opportunity have low achievement but average or above-average gains. (65)

Schools of challenge have low achievement and minimal, if any, gains. (151)

Schools on probation have extremely low achievement. (76)

The Catalyst web site will provide direct links to lists of schools and their categories, as well as related explanatory material, once they are posted to the CPS web site.

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