Comparing Old ISATs To New Ratings

I really wish that Chicago Schools Wonk Seth Lavin @sethlavin would post his weekly roundup of local education news on a blog -- ideally *this* one -- rather than via email (so 1995!).  But until that happens I'll continue to copy and paste it here, with his permission, highlighting what I think is the most interesting parts. In the most recent edition Lavin praises the recent Catalyst story that looked at low-income success stories (think AUSL) that don't look so good if you look at non-ISAT results. "These schools, which have poorer, overwhelmingly minority student populations yet outperform on the official state tests, look much worse on the more rigorous tests....We definitely need that data but we also need more robust systems for evaluating individual school successes, especially when we’re building district and national level policy around their examples." He also calls on Catalyst to post the database it developed to scrutinize schools using the new report card information.  To my knowledge, Catalyst hasn't done this yet, but the spreadsheet here does allow you to see the new report card indicators and the old ISAT scores we're so used to at the same time, if not easily.  See Lavin's whole email below, plus the email address if you want to sign up.  Take a look and let us know if you see anything you like or don't.  Tell Seth that it'd be easier and fun if his updates ran here as well as in email-land.


Happy Veteran’s Day everyone,

I dedicate this week’s Wonks to one of my closest friends—Dan Feehan. Dan’s a veteran. He went from Georgetown to Iraq, serving two tours as an Army Ranger before coming home and joining Teach for America in Chicago. He taught 5th and 6th grade math at KIPP: LEAD in Gary.

Dan’s son, Conor, is 6 months older than my son, Moses. Dan came to the hospital the morning after Moses was born. It was Dan that taught me how to change my first diaper (tabs in the back).

In a week when Penn State’s reminded us all just how badly we need leaders who really are leaders I’m glad I get to think of Dan. Dan is a leader. He stands out, of course, but he’s not alone. Visit a school without the excuse of a press conference. Visit classrooms when there aren’t camera crews inside. Meet teachers. The world is much more full of heroes than you think.

Anyway. Here goes…


Last week we learned about CPS’ new “school report cards,” which grade each school based on student performance data. They include results from the official (/terrible) state tests –ISAT and PSAE—but also from other, more rigorous tests whose results aren’t usually shared—NWEA/Explore/DIBELS. No test’s perfect but these assessments make it easier to conclude whether students are actually on track for college readiness.

Catalyst reporters pulled together data published in hundreds of separate school report cards, which Sarah Karp analyzes to produce this week’s most interesting story.

The district’s best schools (usually in affluent communities) come out still looking good and its worst schools (usually in poorer communities) come out still looking crummy.

Most interesting and frustrating is what Karp found about “the success stories.” These schools, which have poorer, overwhelmingly minority student populations yet outperform on the official state tests, look much worse on the more rigorous tests.

Says Karp: “At schools where more than 80 percent of students are low-income and more than 80 percent of students met standards on the ISAT, less than half of students were at or above grade level on the new test.” Click through for examples (hi AUSL).

I’m not saying the takeaway’s that success stories are actually failures. Just saying it’s hard to conclude too much from any single student assessment. We definitely need that data but we also need more robust systems for evaluating individual school successes, especially when we’re building district and national level policy around their examples.

And please, Catalyst, publish the database!


Right as I hit send last week CTU announced that CPS and the mayor agreed to stop the “longer school day pioneer program.” CTU had made a legal challenge arguing that CPS was violating collective bargaining by offering payments to teachers who waived portions of their contract. CTU dropped that legal challenge as part of the agreement, meaning 13 schools already extending their days keep their money and new schedules.

Both CPS and CTU played nice, calling this a “deal” and patting themselves on the back for collaborating. My read’s more cynical. AG Madigan warned CPS the challenge was legit and that they’d soon be barred from progressing with the program. Instead, CPS/Rahm ended the program voluntarily, completely reversing tack on the mayor’s so-far signature education issue while somehow calling this change a “win for students.”

CPS: Students Win in Agreement Reached By CPS and CTU on Longer School Day Pioneer Program

CTU: Chicago Teachers Union wins victory in ‘longer school day’ dispute - CPS agrees to stop violations of collective bargaining rights

Catalyst got this most right with their story: “CPS agrees to halt Longer School Day Pioneer Program.”

Progress Illinois’s also thoughtful with “Impact Of CPS-CTU Settlement Unclear,” which mulls how much goodwill this collaboration really creates.

I’d say CNCWBEZ, the Trib and the Sun-Times all basically ran with the CPS/Rahm story line. Hats off to the mayor’s press team.

Trib edit board wins for most embarrassing coverage with “Whew! Detente on the longer school day,” which bizarrely praises the mayor for ending a “distracting” dispute. This means the Trib is cheerleading the end of a campaign they cheerleaded while praising its leader both for waging it and for ending it.


Rahm came out this week with the metrics for his principal performance pay plan. For elementary schools the metrics basically measure student growth, with effort to include data from more-rigorous tests as well as the traditional ones. High school metrics are similar, with addition of drop-out prevention data. Click here for the details.

High schools and elementary schools each have four metrics. If your school hits two thresholds you earn $5K. Three is $10K. All four means $20K.

The principals’ union is nervous. I like Karp’s Catalyst story best but I also like Lutton’s interview with a Vanderbilt researcher who says we can’t prove this works.


Medill’s Jean Song has an interesting piece on high school counselors trying to help college-bound undocumented graduates. Remember, no federal aid if you’re undocumented.

Speaking of heroes… a close friend dealt with this repeatedly as a counselor at a high-performing Chicago high school with a sizable undocumented student population. I wonder how UNO and Noble are handling this. Do charters do any checking on documentation status of their students?

40% of DC public school students now attend charter schools.


CTU and UNO put Alderman Sposato in a tough spot. UNO’s planning to open a new campus in Sposato’s ward but they need a zoning change to build the school. Sposato can recommend YES or NO on the change and, according to custom, the rest of the city council follows his lead. CTU says a YES means pro-union Sposata’s turning his back on union teachers. UNO says a NO means a back turned the needs of his community.

CNC’s Vevea writes up a tense neighborhood meeting, where occasional CTU-ally Ald. Moreno spoke on behalf of UNO. I’m hearing whispers that UNO may bring the zoning request to the full council regardless of Sposato’s endorsement.

Russo highlights an NBC segment on the 30-year anniversary of NBC’s original visit to Providence-St. Mel. The original story prompted a visit from President Reagan.

South Loop, once cutting gifted kindergarten, now cutting its entire gifted center.

Rahm’s the keynote at UNO’s annual dinner this Monday.

Brizard’s renewing a waiver that exempts most CPS 11th and 12th graders from IL’s phys. ed requirement. The Board approved, though “The only educator on the board — former Hope College Prep Principal Mahalia Hines — abstained, and declined afterwards to tell reporters why.” (Yes, Common’s mom).

Chicago-based Ounce of Prevention will get a $3M federal grant to “increase the quality of infant-toddler and preschool programs.” Awesome.


@sgonim, for leading the pack on PSU coverage.

Carrie for being the Owen Wilson of meeting leadership.

Nate Han, for your service.

My grandfathers, Carl Lavin and Art Shay, for their service.

Marty, for what you did.

Micki and Mika, for what you might do. See you in 30 minutes.

Thanks everyone,


*****ABOUT THIS******

This is an experiment. My hope is to build a weekly tip sheet that keeps track of developments in the Chicago schools world. I'm not claiming to be especially qualified to do this; it's just that I've wanted it to exist for a long time and it keeps not existing. Guiding beliefs are 1) Chicago children deserve the world's best education and 2) currently they're not getting it. Other than that there's no orthodoxy. You're getting this because I thought you might want it. If you don't, write me and I'll unsubscribe. If you're reading this because someone sent it to you and you want it, write me your name and email address. If I'm getting something wrong (or right) or you want me to think about something, email me [].




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  • Without real leadership, Brizard will keep CPS going through the motions til CPS is privatized. Brizard is bankrupt in knowing how to transform schools in a systematic effective way. He has no experience nor the administrative team below him. CPS is a joke. Rahm put Brizard into being a PR person. Ren 2010 is in full force. It is about not building capacity in schools but closing them and privatizing them. Then you understand why CPS continues to be dysfunctional. Any successful organization either in the private or public sector has strong leadership. CPS lacks that. Don't blame the union or the teachers. The buck stops at the top! Is that too hard to understand?

  • Brizard is a puppet--to hoodwink the blacks of chicago. Donoso the same for the hispanics. 40 acres and a mule--got to admire rahm.
    He should teach at U of C.

  • matt farmer takes on some of the ideas coming out of 125 S. clark street about turning CPS's 123K bad seats into quality ones, and about the fact that even level 1 schools aren't that good

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