The competitive and often stressful process of applying to one of Chicago’s 11 prestigious selective enrollment public high schools is changing this year amid the pandemic, and could put some students in a tough position without an opportunity to improve on old test scores.
Chicago Public Schools officials released the new, highly anticipated admissions criteria this week as students gear up for fall classes.
In a typical year, admissions considerations for eighth graders applying to a selective high school include, among other factors, academic grades; their score on the Northwest Evaluation Association, or NWEA, test in the spring of seventh grade; and an entrance exam. A student has to score at least in the 24th percentile on the NWEA to be eligible to even apply to a selective high school.
The biggest change this year comes in the consideration of test results. With COVID-19 closures having canceled the spring administration of the NWEA test, some eighth graders this year will have to rely on old NWEA scores.
CPS said this time around it will consider students’ highest scores from last winter, fall or spring 2019, in determining their eligibility for applying. The district said students who don’t have a valid NWEA score from those three windows or haven’t taken the NWEA with CPS can have another shot in October.
After that point, scores from those three windows and the upcoming winter administration of the NWEA will be considered for selection to a school.
The same criteria will be put in place for students applying to fifth through eighth grade selective enrollment elementary schools or academic centers.
A mother reacting to those changes in a discussion on the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand’s Facebook page said they could leave some students in the lurch since they hadn’t known their previous scores would be counted and might not have given their full effort.
“Reviewing past materials alone will help a kid do better on this test because it is a test of what you have learned,” that mother wrote. “And knowing that a specific test is critical can really help some kids focus.”
Another change CPS said will ensure fairness in this year’s process is that the district will use the highest scores between a student’s final grades for the past school year or the average of their first and second quarter grades. This could prevent the exclusion of students who weren’t able to access online remote learning in the spring and may have received a “pass” grade instead of a letter grade, CPS said.
The selective enrollment entrance exam will proceed as scheduled this winter, with dates to be announced. And previous years’ attendance will not be used as an admissions criteria this year because it was not tracked last spring during remote learning.
Changes were also made to other processes, such as fine and performing arts programs, for which auditions will be conducted remotely.
Students with disabilities will also now be able to apply to high school cluster programs through GoCPS, the online program the district has been using the past two years to centralize and streamline applications to most CPS programs and selective enrollment schools.
Information will be updated at go.cps.edu on Sept. 14, and applications will open Oct. 12 with the deadline for application Dec. 11.