CPS to promote all elementary students this year, nix standardized tests for competitive high school admissions

Both measures were significant attempts to curb the pandemic’s impact on students, both in the immediate and long-term future and will be welcomed by education advocates and educators.

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Chicago Public Schools will no longer use the NWEA test for selective enrollment high school admissions and plans to advance all elementary students to their next grade level in the fall.

Chicago Public Schools will no longer use the NWEA test for selective enrollment high school admissions and plans to advance all elementary students to their next grade level in the fall.

Chandler West/Sun-Times

All elementary students at Chicago Public Schools will advance to their next grade level regardless of any failing marks this year, and a standardized test long used as an evaluation tool for selective enrollment high school admissions will be dropped, officials announced Thursday.

Both measures were significant attempts to curb the pandemic’s impact on students, both in the immediate and long-term future and will be welcomed by education advocates and educators.

The school district’s failure policy matches its stance last year, when no elementary students were failed after schools closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. A student’s reading or math grades again won’t matter for grade promotion this year, but children with low scores will be recommended to attend summer school, CPS said.

The district said it planned to use federal funds from the past year’s relief bills to help schools provide support to students who need it. CPS has received nearly $2 billion from the federal government in three waves of funding to help the school system and students recover from the pandemic’s unprecedented impact on education, and ensure schools are safe for the resumption of in-person learning.

Officials have said they’ll release their plan to address students’ mental health and educational needs in the coming weeks, which could include additional tutoring.

Eighth graders applying to competitive high schools, meanwhile, will no longer take the NWEA assessment, which has been used along with grades and a separate selective enrollment test to determine school admissions. The change will take effect with next year’s eighth graders, so students entering high schools this fall won’t be impacted.

CPS said it “has carefully considered the benefits of administering these assessments in light of the many disruptions our students, families, and teachers have experienced this year” and canceled the NWEA exam.

Until now, students were not even able to apply to about 100 International Baccalaureate, STEM and arts programs and the district’s 11 selective enrollment high schools unless they met certain academic criteria.

Moving forward, every eighth grader will take the selective enrollment high school exam and have an opportunity for placement at one of those prestigious schools based on their test result and their grades.

In effect, the change opens a process that has been criticized as exclusionary and inequitable to thousands more students.

“Eliminating NWEA and offering all students the Selective Enrollment High School Exam will reduce testing for students who are interested in choice and selective programs, remove the minimum eligibility requirement for programs, and promote equity by providing all students access to the test during school hours,” CPS wrote in an email to families.

The selective enrollment test will be administered next fall and used for the upcoming round of applications. CPS also decided against calculating school ratings this year and will carry over the marks from two years ago, the last full year of attendance and testing.

The NWEA test was the subject of controversy last year when ex-CPS Inspector General Nicholas Schuler released a report that found “irregularities” in test results, stopping short of making cheating allegations but criticizing the district’s proctoring of the exam. Schuler publicly sparred with CPS officials and the Board of Education over his findings around the same time he resigned after accusations he created a toxic work environment in his office.

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