More Bad Test News

Today’s news about PSAE and ACT scores for CPS high school students will likely rekindle the conversation that’s been going on since earlier in the week about what tests measure and whether they matter.

Red marks on ACT, state test Tribune:  In the sobering reality of Chicago Public Schools, years of reform efforts have done little to increase the number of high school students meeting benchmarks for college readiness.

High school test scores take a dive Catalyst:  The district announced on Thursday that the percentage of high school students meeting and exceeding state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Examination decreased from 29.3 percent to 28.3 percent in 2011.

CPS high school ACT scores go down — and they go up Sun Times:  Chicago high school test scores dipped this year under a new counting method, results released Thursday showed. But some results went up under the previous counting method.

Local high school to start breeding racehorses:  A program starting this fall at a Chicago high school looks to teach students a little horse sense. The Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences will have students raise horses that will be sold and used in harness racing.

Benefits of Merit Pay Unclear CNC:  As Chicago Public Schools officials begin to shape a new system of merit pay for principals, experts say there are important lessons to be learned from cities that have experimented with similar initiatives.

Brizard on teachers and principals Tribune: An excerpt from Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard’s interview on Thursday with the Tribune editorial board: I’ve been asked what potential principals create. And the answer is, I don’t know, because the tool we’re using to measure them is.

New CPS leaders face red ink, vow ‘courageous decisions’ Tribune:  Of all the sad statistics related to the financial crisis at Chicago Public Schools, one of the most alarming is simply this: The school district is spending millions more every year to educate fewer children.

Community group has a rally for “better school day”: Community organizations planned to rally in support of Chicago Teachers Union’s call for a “better school day” Thursday afternoon.

The fourth revolution Tribune:  The Chicago Public Schools system has gone through three attempted revolutions in the 16 years since state lawmakers handed power over the schools to the mayor of Chicago. Three revolutions.

Parents Look for School Supply Deals Fox: Stores are sure to be busy the next few days as parents continue their back-to-school-shopping.


Leave a comment
  • You say that the reforms have not worked? Shocking!

  • Well I do not think it matters much that CEO Brizard is using the PSAE data that includes students who used to evade taking the test to argue for a longer school day. Because there may be another issue here. One that is very disturbing, is there actually a ceiling on how high the CPS can push the average test scores up for its population of low income students?

    Is it possible that to get beyond the ceiling without addressing underlying issues of poverty, inequality, and communities were people are getting shot taking in the night air on their front porches? The general answer coming not just from Mr. Brizard is yes a longer school day will in part make up for poverty and in some cases plain and simple dysfunctional homes. I am not sure it will, it probably can't hurt, it will upset teachers who are likely not to be offered vast fortunes for working a longer day. There are exceptions to everything and there are linguistically and logical-mathematically brilliant children born in the deepest poverty in Chicago but they are statistical exceptions that we turn into models for all poor children.

    In my work with children with disabilities we often look at growth potential based on a variety of assessments, not just IQ tests to be clear. I am a strong believer in Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences which are Spatial, Linguistic, Logical-mathematical, Bodily-kinesthetic, Musical, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, and Naturalistic. So when we discuss potential we are actually discussing the potential for human development not how much of a chance the family's child has on getting into Harvard.

    It is my opinion that it will be incredibly difficult to educate many children in Chicago who are in very deep poverty to test well on what is currently assessed which is primarily linguistic and logical-mathematical abilities based simply on more time on task. These two particular forms of what Gardner calls intelligences seem to me to be very sensitive to the total social economic environment that the child is raised in and many deeply poor children may require environmental enrichment before the ceiling can be breeched.

    I see very young children with autism sharing similar clinical assessments coming from both middle class families and deeply poor families. We work to get early intervention services for both, sometimes from the same service provider and inevitably the middle class students have better long term outcomes. These results hold true from my experience regardless of the race of the child's family and the deep love all these parents have for their autistic children. To say it's not fair is - well I guess an understatement.

    There is great truth behind part of the theory of the Harlem children's zone regardless of what one thinks about charter schools and that is wrapping children with supports to enrich them probably helps outcomes. But the Zone project is absurdly expensive and will not likely be replicated on a mass scale in Chicago, so we hope that a longer school day alone with higher quality teaching will fix this problem, my guess is that it will not.

    Rod Estvan

  • Mr. Estvan, I am very surprised by your comment. It seems that before we start pinpointing that the reason for limited success are the characteristics of the students - I think you have to clearly identify that the system itself is functioning.

    The difference between low income and middle income school systems is that there are things tolerated in low income systems, which just are taboo in middle income school systems. Middle income systems would never allow for the superintendent to change every year - they have iron clad contracts and will enfoce them to the letter of the law. They would never allow principals to sit in their schools without seeing levels of teacher and student performance that they are sure will help their students. Middle income systems would never allow for teachers or schools to give their students streams of worksheets, excessively suspend or expel students, nor fail to practice basic tenants of professionalism (i.e. being at school regularly, treating all students courteously, etc.).

    Low income parents tend to have a high trust level for their school systems and rarely question what is going on, which gives a lot of room for the abuse and miseducation of their students.

    The ceiling that we see in test scores is what happens when people depend on test prep and not good instruction to help students. Schools in CPS are woefully inconsistent on the quality of instruction and curriculum provided - not only across the system or within the school, but even crazier - from classroom to classroom. I think these things are much clearer answers for why low income students don't do well as compared to middle income schools. And more importantly, they are things that we as adults can improve for our students.

  • Chicago Public Schools problems begin at the top. CPS is fond of holding teachers "accountable" but have no interest in accountability for leadership above the level of principal. CPS leaders prefer to operate the district in ways very different from how a middle income system functions. For example:

    Middle income systems don't blacklist teachers who were let go due to a budget-based reduction in force. Middle income systems don't make schools wait until the end of the first quarter to fully staff their buildings so every class and every student can actually have a teacher. Middle income systems don't allow functional class sizes in the mid-30s to mid-40s. Middle income systems don't allow a week of "student attendance" at the end of the year after final exams are complete and official grades have been submitted. Middle income systems don't inflict upon students or teachers expensive, mandated and scripted test prep curriculum, especially with no proof of effectiveness. Middle income systems insist on stability at the highest administrative levels on down to school leadership and teaching staff. Middle income systems don't allow human resources to blacklist fully 1/3 of all teacher applicants. Middle income systems don't adopt a new required reading or math initiative every 2 or 3 years. Middle income systems embrace and support meaningful technology integration. Middle income systems fully fund and support a wide variety of co- and extra-curricular after school activities. Middle income systems don't use pop stars famous for singing about birthday sex to lure students back to school at the end of the summer. Middle income systems don't create a tiered education system by segregating the best and brightest students, separating the students with the most involved and supportive families, and lumping everyone else into schools that receive less financial support. Middle income systems would never allow a municipality to extract hundreds of millions of dollars from the budget every year without a fight. The list goes on and on and on...

    No wonder CPS is a mess.

  • First thank you all for your reasoned comments. The late Ronald R. Edmonds, in 1981 wrote “Search for Effective Schools” (NIE, East Lansing, MI. The Institute for Research on Teaching, College of Education, Michigan State University). Dr. Edmonds identified schools that were effectively teaching low income children. (To learn more about Dr. Edmonds go to He identified the following traits:

    Strong administrative leadership
    Focus on basic skills
    High expectations for student success
    Frequent monitoring of student performance
    Safe and orderly schools

    If you look at some of the same schools he identified as effective thirty years later a good number have been closed due to depopulation, others had achievement failures when the effective leaders left along with the core group of teachers that bought into the educational approach. The world is not a simple place, deep poverty that is not attacked though social programs will often eventually beat the very best educational approach. We are only fooling ourselves if we believe that good schools alone can solve many of the long term problems of poverty so many of our children in Chicago face.

    Rod Estvan

  • Poverty is a social issue. Though education is part of the solution, it is not the whole. However, the question for schools is not eradicating poverty, but providing high quality education. As yyou have pointed out, schools can be successful with low income students. The question is whyy would a system allow the loss of high performing schools, administrators, or teachers, but allow the proliferation of low performers?

  • "Low income parents tend to have a high trust level for their school systems and rarely question what is going on"...
    Actually, I think this is a combination of trust and the secret hope that the teacher can do the job without any input or support from home. I have been reading the volleys back and forth on home visits and cannot help smiling, as I think of how hard it is to contact parents on any school issue. In our school we must turn in phone logs showing calls to parents of students who are truant, tardy, cutting or in danger of failing. I would say that my initial calls are well received about 80 percent of the time, and result in improvement about half the time. I always call back to let parents know when this happens, so we can pinpoint what was done that worked. The recidivists? - the commitment pretty quickly turns into annoyance, then anger, refusal to brainstorm on what we can do, and then suddenly all the calls go to voicemail, with very few calls returned. Good luck getting through to do a home visit.
    Sorry if I offend with 'back in my day', but my parents brought me to this country and lived among dismissive and prejudiced strangers for decades in hopes of something better for myself and my siblings. Since my parents didn't go past sixth grade, this necessitated accepting expectations and standards higher than their own. Nowadays many low income parents do not tolerate any feedback suggesting that they need to ramp up anything, even their support - which incidentally was all my parents could do for us - they would leave no room for argument by making it clear to us that whatever the teachers and the school wanted from us was what they wanted. My parents did not read or speak the language - they had NO ability to help me with my homework, not even math, as we were in the throes of 'new math' and many of us kids learned and understood it faster than our teachers did. All they could do was make sure we slept, ate and did our homework on schedule, and no TV before homework was done. If we'd lied, they'd have never found out till report card time. And yet - we never lied. When we traveled home to see our grandparents, my father fell into my grandmother's arms weeping. My aunts cried all morning on the day we were to leave, as we could only get back every three years if things were good. You can't witness that kind of privation and sacrifice and even entertain the notion of paying it back by lying.
    What am I trying to say to parents? Please, just back us up. You would be surprised how fast kids give up and toe the line when they hear the exact same thing at home that they do at school. The parents who have done this have almost always been rewarded by seeing improvement in their children's grades, and more importantly, their attitudes.
    If you save all your passion and energy for a quarterly hissy fit in the principal's office and accusations that 'I was never told' and lie for your child to assuage your own guilt .. you are not helping your child. You are creating problems that will reach far beyond the reach of a teacher to stick by you and help you.
    Wasn't it interesting how many parents asked to comment on the new child curfew times spoke postively about it? Does anyone wonder what people have to be told to have an eleven year old home by 8:30 pm on a school night?
    If you have to be told, you shouldn't be getting offended over people 'judging' your standards and 'disrespecting' you.

  • One should not be surprised; however, people should be outraged! – a decade of
    of snake-oil reforms have culminated in even deeper academic losses.

    Let us not forget that a few short years ago, these very same ACT underachievers were the crowning elementary achievers of the Duncan Administration.

    These are the children who endured a full 8 years of Duncan reform! These kids swallowed all of the Duncan pills!

    But CPS will never have to worry - in a couple short weeks, Chicagoans will have moved on; for those who happen to remember, CPS will simply point to a bogus "district" assessment to indicate that 'new' reforms are showing progress.

    Chicagoans will then comfortably rest their little heads and sleep away the next decade of absurd reforms and unsubstantiated claims.

    As usual, we can depend on our 'crack' local news to prescribe just the right dose of AmbeSleep.

  • a little more from catalyst about the test score declines and the lack of high school reform coordination in recent years

Leave a comment