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CPS releases new school ratings

In unveiling new school ratings from the 2013-14 school year designed to evaluate all Chicago Public Schools against the same performance standards, CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett defended her new discretionary power to hold some previously top-rated schools harmless for another year.

CPS went from three ratings called Level 1, Level 2 and Level 3, with one being the best, to five, with Level 1+ at the top now, Level 1 next, then Level 2+ and Level 2, and Level 3 still the lowest. The district called the system more comprehensive and said that having more categories would allow for differentiated and more specific help for struggling schools because Level 3 used to have 185 schools — 38 high schools and 39 elementary schools — but now has 44 total schools.

Gone, too, is the term “probation,” which Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis had long complained had a criminal connotation. About 200 schools used to be on academic probation.

“I had lots of conversations with the CTU very specifically with Karen, and we both agreed that that language that I inherited here in Chicago and she had lived with — ‘probationary’ is not a good term, not a good descriptor about what we think about our children and think about our schools,” CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said in a conference call.

A school’s rating determines how much support — or punishment — it receives and is now based on a several weighted factors including growth on test scores, attendance and results from the My Voice, My School 5Essentials Survey from the 2013-14 school year. College enrollment and dropout rates also factor into a high school’s rating.

However, 12 schools — 11 elementary schools and a high school — that achieved CPS’ top rating last year — then called Level 1 — remained at Level 1 even though their tests scores and other measures earned them lower ratings, thanks to the CEO.

Byrd-Bennett said that she looked at “anomalies” and asked herself, “It’s a school that started as Level 1 – what contributed to the school moving to a lower level?”

Most warranted the second look because of large influxes of new students in 2013-14 ranging from 24.1 percent to 72.6 percent of the school’s population. Half of those schools — Courtenay Elementary Language Arts Center, 4420 N. Beacon St.; Faraday Elementary School 3250 W Monroe St.; Gregory Elementary School, 3715 W. Polk St.; Leland Elementary School, 512 S. Lavergne Ave.; Pershing Elementary Humanities Magnet, 3200 S. Calumet Ave.; and Sumner Math & Science Community Academy Elementary School, 4320 W. 5th Ave. — were official “welcoming schools” designated to take in significant numbers of children after the June 2013 closing of 50 schools. Leland would have become a Level 3 school, still CPS’ lowest rating, had the CEO not stepped in.

About 29 percent of the teachers at Senn High School, 5900 N. Glenwood Ave., changed from 2012-13 to 2013-14. Walsh Elementary School, 2015 S Peoria St., also saw 27 percent of its teachers change as well as two interim principals leading the school during the 2013-14 school year, according to CPS.

“Given all the changes the district had gone through during the past year, we wanted to make sure we were being accurate and more importantly, being fair,” Byrd-Bennett said. “I would consider just based on my experience as a principal when you get a large number of students at your school who had not been there previously, it changes the dynamic.”

She did not interfere with 12 more formerly top-rated elementary schools that fell two places to Level 2+ or five schools that fell three places to Level 2.

Beth Purvis, who runs the Chicago International Charter Schools, questioned the fairness, saying two of her schools in the Altgeld Gardens neighborhood also had high student turnovers.

“If you look at the rankings of all the elementary schools in the Gardens, I’m a little frustrated to look at Dubois, which was held harmless,” she said. “Is that fair to any of the schools in the Gardens, especially when that’s how parents may make their determination about a school?”

She added, “When it’s not the same system for every school in the system, it’s not fair to anybody.”

Two CICS schools landed among six charters on this year’s Charter Academic Warning List for failing to meet necessary academic standards: Amandla Charter School; Betty Shabazz International Charter School-Betty Shabazz Campus; Betty Shabazz International Charter School-Sizemore Campus; Chicago International Charter School-Larry Hawkins Campus; Chicago International Charter School-Lloyd Bond Campus; and Polaris Academy Charter School.

Purvis said she wasn’t surprised. Her staff noticed problems in the middle of the year with the Lloyd Bond Academy campus, 13300 S. Langley Ave., and promoted a new principal from within, who focused on classroom climate and restorative justice, and arranged for more teacher training to better understand the kids’ needs.

CPS now considers 330 schools to be in good standing; 54 in need of some support from central office; and 148 needing “intensive support to help improve academic achievement. Charter and contract schools at Levels 2 and 3 risk not having their contract renewed with CPS.

One hundred and sixty-one schools achieved CPS’ highest rating, and 44 received its lowest. Of the district’s 459 elementary schools, 130 are Level 1+ and 26 are Level 3. Of CPS’ 140 schools serving both high school and elementary grade levels, 16 are Level 1+ and 16 are Level 3.

Byrd-Bennett said she was happily surprised to see the Level 1+ schools mapped out across the city.

“There are far more quality schools across the city than the perception is and the way in which we get info out to a community,” she said. “There are far more and that was shocking to me.”

Five charter campuses on last year’s Academic Warning List have made enough progress to come off, according to CPS. And one of the schools previously on the Warning List, UNO Rufino Tamayo Campus, jumped to Level 1+ — one of 15 elementary schools that went from CPS’ lowest rating last year to its highest.

Tamayo Principal Erasmo A. Montalvan, who took over after the school was flagged, said he departmentalized third through eighth grade to play to teachers’ strengths so the teacher best at math taught several classes of math and left English to the strongest language arts teacher. He established a new culture — “optimism” — and turned Tamayo around with 90 percent of the same teachers and no significant budget changes.

“Come to our school. Our doors are open,” he said. “Come to our classrooms.”

Asked how the district confirmed results that seemed too good to be true, CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said in an email that the district has “strong security and data validation processes in place. The computer-based nature of the NWEA assessments provides one level of security (for example, no erasure and re-scoring problems) and CPS also has a rigorous data-validation system in place.”

Andrew Broy, head of the Illinois Network of Charter Schools, said some skepticism about vast changes is appropriate.

“When you go from one system to another, you expect a lot of movement up and down. Stuff those folks were rated on poorly last time — their overall proficiency rate — is less important now,” he said. “Crunch the numbers from year to year, you wouldn’t have these huge swings.”

Of the 23 high schools and schools with elementary and high school grades that were labeled Level 1 last year, 13 remain Level 1+. Eight dipped to the new Level 1, two to Level 2+ and one fell to Level 3.

Of the 137 elementary schools formerly ranked at the bottom, 17 remained at the bottom Level 3. Twenty-seven moved to Level 2+; 62 more to Level 2; and 16 to Level 1.

“We’ve got a much better system in place now,” Broy added. “For the city is a net positive for everybody.”