Report Criticizes Test-Based Reform Strategies

With apologies for the delay, here's all about a new report issued by DFC, PURE, and FairTest that criticizes the school reform strategies adopted in Chicago and in NCLB.

From the press release:

Reforms Touted in "Chicago Miracle" Lack Success;
Schools with Locally-initiated Strategies Produce More Learning

A report released today challenges key strategies of the federal No
Child Left Behind law by demonstrating that similar initiatives in
Chicago failed to improve student learning. At the same time,
significant academic progress was made in many Chicago Public Schools
(CPS) which relied on locally-initiated reform strategies focused less
on high-stakes standardized exams.
Local political and business leaders have long claimed that top-down CPS
initiatives have been successful and applauded their incorporation in
the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. But the new report,
Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation, found more progress in
Chicago schools that developed strong curriculums, ensured professional
development of classroom educators, and shared leadership among parent
councils, the principal and teachers independent of the CPS central office.
The report is based on a review of academic studies of Chicago schools,
which show, for example, that Chicagos retention program harmed rather
than helped students, CPS test scores flatlined in schools where central
office controls replaced local decision making, and top-down
interventions over 10 years did not work. The report was sponsored by
Designs for Change and Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE)
along with the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest).
The failure of test-driven school reform in Chicago should provide a
warning for the country, said FairTest Executive Director Monty Neill.
The Chicago schools most affected by test-based grade retention and
takeovers continue to fare poorly. No wonder NCLB has not been
successful in significantly improving academic performance nationally:
it is based on a failed model.
The citys most recent reform effort, Renaissance 2010 is NCLB
Chicago-style, explained PURE Executive Director Julie Woestehoff.
There is no evidence it will help the thousands of low-income children
in our city who desperately need high quality schooling. Instead
Renaissance 2010 reduces parent involvement, promotes privatized
school management, and reinforces an extreme focus on testing.
Don Moore, Executive Director of Designs for Change, added, The nearly
150 steadily improving elementary schools in Chicago prove that
decentralized reforms can work. The next step is for those successful
schools, which are overwhelmingly low-income, to help others. Central
CPS interventions have not succeeded. A Designs for Change study, The
Big Picture, contrasted 144 initially low-achieving schools that now
have steadily rising test scores with more than 100 other initially
similar schools that have not shown sustained improvement despite
central office intervention.
The recommendations for reforms in Chicago are consistent with those
found in the Joint Organizational Statement on NCLB, endorsed by more
than 100 national education, civil rights, religious, disability and
civic organizations.
- - 30 - -
Attached: Executive Summary of Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the
A copy of the full report is available at and at or by contacting PURE at 100 S. Morgan St.,
Chicago, IL 60607; (312) 491-9101.

Chicago School Reform: Lessons for the Nation

January 2007

Executive Summary

Public education in the U.S. faces a critical choice. We can continue to
follow the path of punishment and privatization promoted by business and
political interests and enshrined in No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and
various Chicago Public Schools (CPS) policies and practices. Or we can
expand the fairer, more effective strategies that have been evolving in
the most successful schools in Chicago and elsewhere.

Unfortunately, many ineffective CPS strategies are being promoted across
the nation as solutions to schools failing to make adequate yearly
progress (AYP) under NCLB. This report takes a close look at the
successes and failures of Chicago school reform what research shows
has and has not worked. The report covers Chicago school reform from the
decentralization period of the early 1990s (Chapter I), to the 1995
mayoral takeover (Chapter II), and on to the most recent CPS improvement
scheme, called the Renaissance 2010" plan (Chapter III).

Among the ineffective, damaging practices carried out in Chicago are
educationally counter-productive central office interventions, most
rooted in the misuse of high-stakes tests, such as scripted curricula
and reconstitution; grade retention based on test scores; undermining
local decision making; and increased privatization. While NCLB does not
require all of these, the test-focused environment created by NCLB
encourages these harmful practices.

An alternative approach for sustained, continuous school improvement
uses strategies shown to be successful in Chicago (Chapter IV). The
recommendations listed below and described in more detail in the final
chapter sum up and are based on these successful approaches. They are
supported by current research in key areas such as professional
development, parent involvement, and assessment. While these
recommendations focus on Chicago, most have implications for NCLB, such
as improved funding equity, ways to ensure schools can assist one
another to improve curriculum and instruction, and focusing on
strengthening school capacity to serve all children well through
professional development and parent involvement.

Recommendation 1: Illinois and Chicago must improve funding adequacy and
Illinois needs to provide substantially more funding, allocated
especially to those districts with the most needs, including Chicago.
Chicago's Mayor and CPS need to establish a fair, adequate and
equitable distribution of resources within Chicago Public Schools.

Recommendation 2. CPS must initiate a program of sharing best practices,
including those developed in its stronger schools, among both successful
schools and struggling schools.

Recommendation 3: Elected parent-majority Local School Councils (LSC)
must be the default governance structure in all non-charter CPS schools.
Hold charters accountable for parent involvement in decision-making by
requiring annual reporting of parental activity in this area.
Outsource LSC support and training to qualified groups and individuals
to avoid conflict of interest between local school and central
office/city hall interests and increase the quality of LSC training.

Recommendation 4. CPS must improve curriculum and instruction and foster
high-quality professional development:
Eliminate scripted curricula and move away from teaching the test.
Ensure that professional development focuses on authentic,
intellectually challenging and engaging curriculum and instruction.

Recommendation 5. CPS must prioritize professional development,
supporting a decentralized and collaborative approach, following the
guidelines of the National Staff Development Council and the U.S.
Department of Education Professional Development Team.

Recommendation 6. CPS must improve parent involvement training and
Ensure that schools have access to high-quality training for parents
and teachers on parents rights under NCLB to observe classrooms and be
involved in school improvement planning and evaluation.
Construct a standard, CPS-approved, comprehensive annual parent
survey; and require schools to use it or some comparable tool to gather
parent input prior to developing or modifying parent involvement and
school improvement plans for the coming year.
Require all schools to report to the public annually on progress with
parent involvement.

Recommendation 7. CPS must implement high-quality assessment practices
and fair and beneficial accountability policies:
Ensure that learning high-quality assessment is part of expanded
professional development, including work on using formative assessment
Implement the assessment and accountability recommendations of the
CPS-developed Commission on Improving Classroom-based Assessment and the
New ERA plan, which rely more on performance-based assessments than
standardized tests, while pushing Illinois to support high-quality local
Halt the grade retention program, making retention a rarity while
providing needed assistance in mastering a rich curriculum to all
students who need it, regardless of their test scores.
Implement both the letter and the spirit of the remediation,
probation, and intervention provisions of the Chicago school reform law:
carry out high-quality needs assessment, program planning, and program
evaluation in a process which includes all school stake-holders
including the LSC; provide adequate time and resources for programs to

Recommendation 8. CPS must actively participate in the ESEA/NCLB
reauthorization process by supporting the recommendations in the Joint
Organizational Statement on No Child Left Behind (2004).

This report is endorsed by the following groups and individuals:
Designs for Change
National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest)
Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE)

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