CPS to consider science, social studies marks instead of standardized tests for advancing to the next grade

The district is placing more focus on core subjects and helping students who are falling behind so they aren’t held back.

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Science and social studies grades are in, standardized test scores are out.

The requirements for Chicago Public Schools students to be promoted to the next grade are changing, with the district placing more of a focus on core subjects and helping students who are falling behind so they aren’t held back.

The district didn’t hold any students back the first two years of the COVID-19 pandemic, citing the unprecedented circumstances kids faced academically and socially in remote learning.

Officials have since been reviewing their grade retention and promotion policy and presented an updated one Wednesday to the Board of Education, which approved the new rules.

Bogdana Chkoumbova, the district’s chief education officer, said the goal isn’t to hold back more or fewer students because of failing grades but to “ensure that our students have the support that they need” based on their academic performance.

The current policy will remain in effect for this school year. Then starting in the 2023-24 school year, students will be measured for promotion or retention at the end of the second, fifth and eighth grades instead of third, sixth and eighth.

In second grade, students will need to earn at least a “C” in reading, with that grade reflecting satisfactory class test scores and consistent completion of assignments. Those who don’t meet those requirements will still be promoted to third grade if an intervention plan and goals have been implemented and the student is meeting those goals.

In fifth and eighth grades, kids will need to reach that “C” mark in reading plus math and, for the first time, science and social studies. The same standards will apply for class tests and assignments. Interventions and goals would help students advance to the next grade here, too, but those kids will also have to complete summer school.

If kids who are assigned to summer school don’t complete it satisfactorily, they’ll be retained in their grade for the following academic year under the new policy and be given a personal learning plan that includes in-school, after-school and other personalized interventions.

The district said interventions can include high-dosage tutoring or targeted help for specific skills.

“Basically this is a professional determination for the school staff, teachers, principals to really have evidence that intervention is provided to the student,” Chkoumbova said.

“Summer school is just like the last resort. And we’re really hoping the summer school program will move beyond just being remedial programs, academic programs, but being also enrichment, exciting opportunities for kids to reengage and participate in.”

Chalkbeat Chicago first reported on a draft of the policy in December and cited research that showed holding kids back has harmed more than helped them, and Black and Latino students have been disproportionately required to repeat grades. At the same time, experts have found retention might in fact increase a student’s chances of dropping out of high school, according to Chalkbeat.

CPS said it plans to set standards for grades, promotion and retention so students face similar requirements across the district. The district will conduct unannounced classroom visits to ensure instruction is at the appropriate grade level and report card grades are given out according to district policy.

Education equity advocates have often pointed out grades can be given out subjectively depending on standards set by different schools and teachers.

“I have to say that I trust the professionals in the schools — teachers, principals — in the way they’re organizing the support,” Chkoumbova said. “But that’s why we also have this sort of layer that prompts this reflective” question.

“If a child is not meeting the standards, have we done everything that we possibly can to support the child to meet those standards? But I do believe our educators have good judgment.”

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