Since approving a student retention policy in 1996, the School Board has continually scrambled to get more students over the test score hurdles.


March 1996

The School Board approves a new policy sending students at certain grades to summer school if they fail to make a minimum score on a standardized math and reading test. The policy will go into effect immediately for 8th-graders, and the following summer for students in grades 3 and 6.

The previous board policy discouraged retention, saying that it should be used only after an intervention plan had been tried without success.

A Chicago Sun-Times editorial hails the get-tough measure: “Children will know that they must perform, and if they don’t, there will be consequences.”

School reform groups, including the Chicago Association of Local School Councils, oppose the policy and demand public hearings, to no avail.

April 1996

Principals rushing to complete their 1996-97 budgets get an unpleasant surprise. Federal funds the School Board had counted on to pay for the bulk of 1997 mandatory summer school have been cut. Now schools must pay for most of it with their own discretionary funds. Over the summer, Congress reconsiders, funding is restored, and schools are off the hook.

June 1996

The board hastily launches a Summer Bridge program for 7,000 8th-graders who failed to hit a 6.8 on the math and reading portions of the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills, which is roughly two years below the average score for 8th grade. Students with failing grades in math or reading classes and those with poor attendance are also enrolled.

July 1996

Summer Bridge is well underway when schools chief Paul Vallas announces that students who don’t earn a 6.8 in an August retest will have to repeat 8th grade. The announcement surprises parents, students and teachers, who thought that hard work and good attendance in summer school were the only requirements for promotion. In August, some 1,500 8th-graders are retained.


September 1996

Some 1,300 over-age 8th-graders who fail to meet promotion requirements in August fall through a loophole and are promoted anyway. Under longstanding board policy, students who turn 15 by Dec. 1 are sent then on to high school regardless of their achievement levels.

Next year, the policy will be revamped: Over-age 8th-graders who fail to earn promotion will repeat the grade at nine regional transition centers. The centers will provide smaller classes and extra support services. Students will remain at the centers until they earn the minimum required scores.

February 1997

Transition centers open for retained 8th-graders who are able to hit test-score cutoffs on a January retest. The centers offer high school courses, which continue during the summer.

June 1997

Promotion requirements approved last May go into effect. The minimum math and reading scores needed for promotion are 2.8 for 3rd grade and 5.3 for 6th grade. The board raises the 8th- grade minimum to 7.0. Ninth-graders also are required to earn minimum scores on the Tests of Achievement and Proficiency. Some 28,000 elementary students and 14,000 high school freshmen are enrolled in Summer Bridge.

August 1997

The board announces that more than 10,000 elementary school students who attended Summer Bridge failed to score high enough for promotion and will have to repeat a grade. Noting poor performance among 3rd-graders, CEO Vallas says that beginning next year, summer school will be available for struggling 1st-graders.


September 1997

Responding to a statewide dip in scores on a state reading test, Vallas announces that low-achieving 2nd-graders also will attend summer school. Summer school for 1st- and 2nd-graders will be voluntary.

The board lowers class size for some retainees by sending an extra teacher to each of the 65 elementary schools with the largest number of retained students. Those teachers are supplied with 100 one-hour math and reading lessons.

The board funds an after-school Lighthouse program for 146 schools. Students, mainly low- achievers, get an extra hour of instruction, an hour of recreation and a hot meal. The program was piloted last school year in 40 schools, mainly those on academic probation. By 1999-00, 364 elementary schools will participate.

October 1997

The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the School Board will provide day-long classes next summer to allow some of the 9,400 3rd- and 6th-graders who were retained this school year to rejoin classmates who were promoted. If successful in meeting the board’s test-score targets, these children would enter 5th and 8th grades next August. By summer’s end, only 400 will earn “double-promotion.” Next year, the board will try a new strategy to help retained kids rejoin their peer group—midyear promotion.

June 1998

The grade-equivalent score for 8th grade promotion rises to 7.2


September 1998

In the wake of a high no-show rate, the School Board drops mandatory summer school for freshmen who fail courses or post especially low scores on standardized reading and math tests. Chief Education Officer Cozette Buckney says the board decided that the $9.3 million it spent on summer school for freshmen in 1998 could be better spent elsewhere.

The only consequence for low-scoring freshmen who failed to attend Summer Bridge had been assignment to a “demote” homeroom. Students who passed freshman courses had enrolled in sophomore courses the following year, regardless of their TAP scores.

This year, the board sends an extra 150 teachers to schools with the largest numbers of retained students. The board also hires 500 retired teachers and 250 college students to tutor retained students.

January 1999

For the first time, all retained 3rd-, 6th- and 8th-graders are given a midyear retest. Some 4,600 are promoted immediately. In a last-minute decision, those who had been in transition centers or 8th grade are transferred to regular high schools for the second semester.

June 1999

The minimum test score for 8th-grade promotion rises for a third time, to 7.4.

January 2000

Some 8th-graders promoted midyear are sent to top schools such as Whitney Young, Lane Technical and Prosser high schools instead of to their neighborhood high schools, many of which are struggling to get off academic probation.

March 2000

A coalition of school reform groups releases a draft of an alternative, qualitative accountability system that would require each school to use several student assessments, such as portfolios, exhibitions, as well as “any appropriate, educationally sound state- and district-mandated tests.”

June 2000

The minimum test score for 8th-grade promotion will rise to 7.7. The 6th-grade cutoff will rise for the first time, to 5.5.

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