With today’s release of ISAT scores, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett touted that students at schools that will take in children displaced by closings are making greater gains and have greater overall scores than students at schools that will shut down.

However, the data shows that many of these receiving schools are still behind the CPS average, and some may be on a downward slide, even when accounting for changes that sent scores on a steep plunge when compared to previous years.

This year, students at receiving schools made less than half the gains of students citywide. Receiving schools saw an 0.8 percentage point increase in the number of students meeting new state standards. But around the city, scores inched up by 1.8 percentage points.

In addition, 12 receiving schools saw their test scores plummet by more than 4.8 percentage points, and five of those schools saw drops of more than 10 percentage points, including Lavizzo, which saw a 20.1-point drop – the biggest in the district — and Johnson and Chopin, which had the third- and fourth-largest test score drops in the city.

Also, four schools that will be closed come fall ranked in the top 10 percent of schools system-wide for test score growth. Those were Bethune (16 points), Garfield Park (15.3 points), Overton (12 points), and Songhai (8.1 points).

Overall, there was good and bad news about this year’s ISAT scores.

An increase in the score required to pass the test sent the percentage of students meeting standards plummeting, from nearly three-quarters last year to just over half this year.

But when the new benchmark is applied to last year’s test data, CPS says students are making progress: Last year, 50.7 percent of students met standards, compared to 52.5 percent this year.

Besides the mixed picture at receiving schools, there are other caveats about this year’s scores. For one, performance has slid at a number of charter schools.

What’s more, the achievement gap is growing. The percentage of white students–now at less than 10 percent of district enrollment and largely clustered in selective and magnet schools as well as some neighborhood schools on the Northwest Side–who exceed state standards is increasing three to four times faster than the percentage of Latino and African American students.

Byrd-Bennett says the test score gaps show the importance of early childhood education and primary-grades literacy instruction.

“Children have got to be able to read by 1st grade,” she said. “All boats have to rise. It just means our minority children are going to have to run this race even faster.”

Progress slowing at charters, turnarounds

The schools where scores are improving the fastest–posting gains in the top 10 percent of schools districtwide–included five Academy for Urban School Leadership turnarounds (Bethune, Piccolo, Herzl, Fuller and Marquette),  three alternative schools (Simpson, Vivian Summers, and Banner North), and three charter schools (LEARN-Perkins, CICS-Washington Park, and Noble Street-Gary Comer).

However, among schools that lost nearly 5 percentage points or more – the 10 percent of schools with the lowest growth – were 12 charter schools and four schools operated by the Academy for Urban School Leadership, including the turnarounds Johnson, Dodge and Dulles.

Overall, AUSL turnaround schools showed greater gains than the district average, but their progress appears to be slowing. Though AUSL turnarounds on the whole made gains of over 7 percentage points during the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, that group of schools gained only 2.9 percentage points this year.

Neighborhood schools’ test scores outpaced those of charter schools for the first time in recent years. Among students at neighborhood schools, 52.6 percent met or exceeded state standards, compared with 50.4 percent of those at charters. (Last year, 50.4 percent of neighborhood school students and 50.8 percent of those at charters would have met or exceeded state standards under the new criteria.)

Chicago International Charter Schools – Longwood, the largest elementary charter school, saw a 13-point decline in the percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards.

Another issue was that “we added five new charters last year,” explained Ryan Crosby, the district’s Director of Performance Data and Policies. “Those opened in lower-performing neighborhoods, and took on a lower-performing caseload of students.”

Signs of testing times

Before this year’s changes, research had long shown a disconnect between the ISAT and the tests that students must take in high school. Many of those who met state standards on the ISAT went on to flounder on the more difficult Prairie State high school exam. Plus, performance on the ISAT invariably was far below t that  of national tests.

“The state had been under pressure to raise the cut scores for quite some time,” says Robin Steans, executive director of the school reform advocacy group Advance Illinois. “Everybody knew the ISAT cut scores were too low.”

But, Steans notes, CPS students have been making progress nonetheless. Between 2006 and 2012, she says, CPS closed half of the gap between its test scores, and those in the rest of the state.

More changes are coming. Even after this year’s toughening of the test, pass rates will likely drop yet again in spring 2015, when the district fully implements the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test, based on the Common Core State Standards.

On this year’s ISAT, just 20 percent of questions reached that level of difficulty. For instance, students in 3rd grade were required to read passages that were several pages long, and those in 8th grade had to solve algebraic equations.

CPS officials touted the continuing progress of schools that piloted the longer day. Though they had just one year of extended learning time before the longer day was implemented district wide, those schools have now caught up with the rest of the district, Crosby said.

John Barker, chief of accountability for the district, says that CPS will “be looking for themes” at schools where scores went down, to find out what happened.

The new cut scores will not affect student retention, because the portion of the test on which retention is based – the SAT 10 – is unchanged, both in question format and in the specific cut scores used to determine retention.



Schools with greatest test score gains:



Percentage-point increase in students meeting or exceeding state standards

Overall percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards










Simpson Alternative 



LEARN Charter – Perkins






















 Schools with largest test score losses:




Percentage-point decrease in students meeting or exceeding state standards

Overall percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards




Milburn Alternative Elementary















West Pullman






National Teachers Academy






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