CPS shortens high school admissions test but pauses plan that would have diversified selective schools

The online application GoCPS opened this week for 2024-25 enrollment, kicking off the annual scramble for K-9 students looking to get into the city’s test-in elementary and high schools.

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Northside College Preparatory High School is one of CPS’ most highly sought-after selective enrollment schools.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Chicago Public Schools’ high school admissions process is changing this year with a shortened test, later school ranking deadline and better language accessibility.

But, for now, the district isn’t following through with a proposal CPS CEO Pedro Martinez made last year that would have opened up more seats at selective enrollment schools to students from low-income families.

The online application GoCPS opened this week for 2024-25 enrollment in all the city’s test-in elementary and high schools, kicking off the annual scramble for K-9 students looking to pick a magnet or selective school instead of one in their neighborhood.

“The strength and diversity of our educational programs allows students to earn college credits, take International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement courses, become bilingual and biliterate, and explore STEM, CTE, and Service Leadership programs all while still in a CPS classroom,” Martinez said in a statement.

The GoCPS application is open through 5 p.m. Nov. 9, and testing is still part of the process.

But the high school admissions test has been cut to one hour from two and a half. It’ll include 30-minute sections in reading and math. And for the first time, it’ll be offered in five languages in addition to English: Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu and Polish.

“The reduced test length allows CPS to get the information needed on student performance for the admissions process while helping reduce anxiety for students and increasing accessibility,” a district spokeswoman said.

CPS students will take the high school admissions exam on Oct. 11, and non-CPS students will take theirs Oct. 14, 15 or 21. Those who don’t attend CPS for elementary school have to register by Oct. 2 for the earlier test dates or Oct. 6 for the later one.

After students get their test scores in November, they’ll be able to re-rank their preferred schools until 5 p.m. Nov. 22, allowing kids to make more informed picks based on their scores. Students in the past have had to make their choices without knowing their scores.

School offers will be released in the spring — officials hope to send them out earlier this year to give families more time to decide before the deadline. Elementary school students applying to specialty programs will also take an entrance exam as part of their application and have a similar timeline.

For many kids, applying to a public high school in Chicago can be as stressful as college applications.

Education activists have long pushed for better accessibility and less pressure in the admissions process. And there have been longstanding demographic disparities at some selective enrollment high schools, with Black students, kids from low-income families and those in special education particularly underrepresented.

For more than a decade, 70% of seats in these schools have been split up among four tiers of students based on socioeconomic factors, and kids in each group compete with each other based on grades and test scores. The remaining 30% go exclusively to kids who earn the most points in the admissions system, and they typically are mostly higher-income kids.

That 30% rule is what Martinez vowed to scrap in March 2022. Asked Thursday if the district planned to follow through with that proposal, spokeswoman Samantha Hart said no.

“We will continue to review the GoCPS program and process with a focus on equity, with any future changes done in collaboration with our schools and communities,” Hart said.

Cassandra Kaczocha, the board president of the parent advocacy group Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education, said the process this year isn’t going to drastically shift demographics like some hoped.

“Are they creating a slightly more equitable process? Yes,” she said. “But the slightly is very slight.”

Still, some of the changes may be welcomed by families who have criticized an often cumbersome process, she said.

“Families historically have had to choose their top choice for schools based on things like logistics, and what the cut scores each school has,” she said. “But they haven’t known what their child’s actual score is so they don’t know what their likelihood of getting into the school. So I think that change will definitely help people make a choice about what school they want, that’s more informed on their actual ability to get into that school.”

Shortening the test also helps, especially for disabled students. Two and a half hours is an “absurd amount of time to expect any child to sit through,” Kaczocha said.

CPS is hosting online information sessions through early November. Families can register and find more information about the process at cps.edu/gocps.

Contributing: Sarah Karp

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