In December, the district will unveil a new high school “score card” that aims to give parents more information to help them pick the best high school for their teenagers.

Among other indicators, the score card shows the gains high school students make on standardized tests, which the district is now calculating for the first time. The goal, says Xavier Botana, chief of accountability for the federal No Child Left Behind law, is to determine whether schools are “moving kids at the same rate that schools nationally are moving their kids.” Botana supervised the development of the card, which is intended to report more in-depth statistics than the state’s school report card.

Because the state’s high school test—the Prairie State Achievement Exam—is administered only to juniors, the district is analyzing the gains students make as they move through ACT’s college testing sequence: the 9th-grade Explore, 10th-grade PLAN and the 11th-grade ACT. The gains students make in each successive year are compared to the gains made by students across the country who scored at the same level on the first test. The score card reports the percentage of students in each school who meet or exceed the expected gains.

Showing test-score gains is a more accurate way to demonstrate whether a neighborhood school is making progress with its students. “It levels the playing field,” says Peter Ballard, a member of the district team that developed the card. “It doesn’t look at where the kid starts but how much they progress in a year.”

For that reason, showing gains is also likely to provide a wake-up call to high-scoring schools, which typically have selective enrollments, if students do not progress much from year-to-year, or if minority students make less progress than whites.

“I think that’s going to challenge us in ways we haven’t been challenged before,” says Donald Fraynd, principal of Jones College Prep in the South Loop. “It’s a more accurate measure of what we are doing in our schools. We shouldn’t be celebrated for just beginning with a strong student. We should be celebrated for what we do to move that student forward.”

Among other indicators, the score card reports the number of graduates who enroll in college, the number of students who take Advanced Placement courses and pass course exams and the number of freshmen on-track to graduate at the end of 9th grade. For some indicators, the district is including three years’ worth of data to show trends.

Paul Reville, a lecturer at Harvard Graduate School of Education and president of the Rennie Center for Education Research and Policy, a Massachusetts-based think tank, says the card is a good idea. “It broadens the information that usually is talked about,” he says. “It’s also attending to progress as well as just snapshots.”

Next year, the district will add the results of student surveys about school climate, teacher expectations and support from school staff. Data that is disaggregated by race also will become available online.

Parents need more help

At first, some principals in neighborhood high schools balked at the score card idea because central office said it planned to rank all schools together, whether neighborhood-based or with selective enrollment.

“You’re just not starting from the same point,” notes Richard Norman, principal of Senn High in Edgewater and former director of admissions at Northside College Prep. “Principals wanted to be compared with their peers.”

The district agreed to have separate rankings, Botana says. The main rationale for the score cards is to give parents better information about high schools. “If you’re a parent and you’re looking among five schools, and you really care about attendance, you can see how they rate,” Botana says.

But one mother of five says it will take more than a score card to help parents make the best schooling choices.

Until she attended a community forum, Jackie Dukes was not considering alternatives to Hyde Park High in Woodlawn for her youngest son. But “listening to the panel” convinced her to consider the University of Chicago’s new charter high school, which will open next fall. Dukes, who is still weighing high school options, says her son “will need a lot more of a push to go from high school to college,” and liked the university’s plans for preparing all students for post-secondary education.

The card is available in English, Spanish and Polish at schools and on the CPS web site.

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