Since approving a tough student promotion policy in 1996, the School Board has constantly adjusted it, allowing more students to be promoted from one grade to the next.


The School Board approves a new policy requiring students in 3rd, 6th and 8th grades to go to summer school if they fail to meet specific minimum scores on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which provides “grade equivalent” scores that correlate to grade levels. (For example, an 8.0 signifies the typical level of achievement at the beginning of 8th grade.) Students are tested again at the end of summer school and are held back if their scores do not sufficiently improve. In the first year, the policy applies only to 8th-graders.

The new policy sets the advancement bar a year and a half below grade level for 3rd- and 6th-graders and almost two years below for 8th-graders.
The previous policy discouraged retention, saying that it should be used only after an intervention plan had been tried without success.


Transition centers are created to provide support and smaller class sizes for 8th-graders who fail to meet promotion requirements but are considered too old to remain in elementary schools. To be eligible for a transition center, a student must turn 15 by Sept. 1.

The new promotion requirements go into effect for 3rd- and 6th- graders. More than 10,000 elementary school students who attended Summer Bridge fail to score high enough for promotion and have to repeat a grade.


All retained 3rd-, 6th- and 8th-graders are given a chance to be promoted mid-year by taking a retest.

The minimum test score for 8th-grade promotion rises for a third time, to 7.4, roughly the middle of 7th grade. But students who narrowly miss the promotion criteria are automatically eligible for waivers. 


School advocates convince CPS to alter the policy so that grades and absenteeism, in addition to test scores, are added as factors in retention decisions.


The policy is amended to use national percentile scores rather than grade equivalent scores.  Students must score above the 35th national percentile to be promoted automatically.  The 50th percentile is the national average. Upwards of 13,000 students in benchmark grades are retained—the most since the 1996 promotion policy went into effect.


The Consortium on Chicago School Research releases its most critical assessment of CPS’ promotion policy. Not only do retained students not perform better academically than those who were socially promoted in the past, but retained students are more likely to drop out.  These findings echo other studies across the country.

In response, CPS bars multiple retentions within any three-year period and drops math scores from promotion criteria.


CPS stops using the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and replaces with the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT). The ISAT is supposed to be more closely aligned with Illinois standards. Thirty nationally normed questions, called the SAT 10, are embedded into the test and are used to determine promotion at all three grade levels.

Math returns as a criterion for promotion. Students who score below the 35th percentile in reading or math, fail a class or have 18 or more unexcused absences must go to summer school. For the first time, not all students who are required to go to summer school must retest to move up; only those who scored below the 24th percentile on the SAT 10 are required to pass a re-test at summer’s end.


The policy is revised to allow district officials to use the “highest score from the last two annual assessments” in making promotion decisions.


Eighth-grade students who fail a writing assessment must attend a summer writing workshop. The benchmark for having to attend summer school goes back to below the 24th percentile.


Current policy: Students who must go to summer school are those who (1) score below the 24th national percentile on the SAT 10, (2) receive a D or F in reading, writing or math (3) have more than nine unexcused absences. 

The only students who must retake the SAT 10 to be promoted out of summer school are those who fail to meet all criteria. 

In order to be promoted out of summer school, everyone else simply needs to attend classes and get a passing grade in math, reading and writing.


Some students required to attend summer school are enrolled only in classes addressing their particular deficiencies—reading, math or writing. They must pass only those courses to move on.

Sarah is the deputy editor of Catalyst Chicago.

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