CPS to scrap school ratings, replace them with less ‘punitive’ system

Though a replacement hasn’t yet been created or publicly detailed, the Board of Education is expected to vote Wednesday on the parameters for a new system to replace the School Quality Rating Policy (SQRP).

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A sign for Chicago Public Schools on the door of the district’s headquarters.

Sun-Times file photo

Chicago Public Schools officials are set to nix their controversial campus rating system known as SQRP as they develop a new method of “school accountability” without assigning “punitive” and comparative scores.

The change will be welcomed by the many teachers and advocates who have fought to get rid of SQRP, which stands for School Quality Rating Policy. Those who opposed the system likened a poor rating to a scarlet letter to criticize schools — and has been used as a reason to close them — for factors out of students’ control.

Though a replacement hasn’t yet been created or publicly detailed, the Board of Education is expected to vote Wednesday on the parameters by which it wants district leaders to establish a new system — notably one that considers each school’s existing and required resources and conditions for students’ educational success.

SQRP scores, which haven’t been updated since the pandemic started, placed schools on a scale, ranging from Level 1-plus for the best-performing schools to Level 3 for those with the most support required for improvement. Those ratings were calculated using student test scores, academic growth, closing of achievement gaps, school culture and climate, attendance, graduation and preparation for post-graduation success. The first ratings under SQRP were issued for the 2014-15 school year, based on data from the previous year.

Critics, and most recently school board members, have explained that those school ratings may appear to measure objective metrics, but there are important community and student hardship variables that affect data such as test scores and attendance figures from school to school, neighborhood to neighborhood.

In its resolution for a new accountability system, the board said the new version should recognize that societal systems play a critical role in children’s lives, and “the way students interact with those systems and structures differs depending on identity and students’ life circumstances, both of which can affect how they perform in school.”

The school board called for “reimagining an accountability approach that is not punitive, better informed by stakeholder needs and feedback, and better aligned to the core work of schools — teaching and learning — and reflective of community values.” The district held community meetings over the past two years to hear thoughts on how the system could change.

The board said CPS should include establishing a framework for what a high-quality CPS education should look like, and the resources and vision needed to get there, the board said. Once that is clearly laid out, the SQRP replacement should explain what resources each school has toward the goal of a high-quality education.

The new system should go “beyond solely focusing on school-level outputs and outcomes and adding greater consideration to, and accountability for, inputs such as the set of resources (e.g., funding to schools) and conditions (e.g., safe and inclusive professional and student learning environments) that impact a high-quality educational experience in schools,” the board said. Accountability should be redirected at the district rather than individual schools.

“This change is not to be interpreted as diminished accountability at the school level; rather, the approach to accountability must reflect the fact that schools do not exist in isolation and that many out-of-school factors influence schools and student learning.”

State law requires districts disclose a school’s status from labels such as “good standing,” “remediation” or “probation,” but CPS will no longer rank schools using Levels 1, 2 or 3. And school closures will no longer be based solely on those rankings.

If the resolution passes, the board will call on CPS CEO Pedro Martinez and his administration to create a new policy in time for the 2023-24 school year and re-evaluate the system every three years for improvements.

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