Rahm’s celebration of test results ignores how CPS is still failing students

Rahm’s celebration of test results ignores how CPS is still failing students

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is touting a specific set of test scores showing improving student performance, while sweeping larger achievement problems under the rug.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools officials want Chicagoans to believe all is well with student achievement in CPS. They’ve hailed certain test scores that show improvement in student performance.

But their messaging distracts from reality: The system is still failing its students. A majority of CPS students don’t meet standards in reading or math. A majority of CPS students don’t graduate college-ready. And most distressingly, two-thirds of CPS third-graders are not reading at grade level.

In an Aug. 10 press release, the mayor promoted the high scores CPS students earned in reading and math on the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test administered by the nonprofit Northwest Evaluation Association, or NWEA. The release also drew attention to the growth in CPS student test scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, the nation’s most comprehensive achievement test.

But by focusing on a positive set of test scores, the mayor and CPS officials are ignoring the difficult reality of student achievement and the steep challenges CPS faces.

State test scores show CPS is failing a majority of students

Emanuel and various CPS officials have promoted the fact that CPS students are “scoring higher in reading and math than their national peers” on the NWEA’s MAP test. Over 61 percent of students met or exceeded national averages in reading, and almost 56 percent met or exceeded national average scores in math.

In addition, the numbers of students meeting and exceeding the national averages on the MAP test have grown by 35 percent in reading and 24 percent in math since 2013. In the mayor’s press release, district CEO Forrest Claypool went so far as to say that “Chicago students are learning and achieving at record breaking levels.”

The mayor said CPS students are “national leaders in gains for both eighth grade math and fourth grade reading” on the national benchmark NAEP test.

But officials are leaving out other measures of the district’s performance that show sobering results.

According to the Illinois State Board of Education’s Illinois Report Card, the results of the most recent Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, test indicates 3 out of every 4 CPS students are failing to read or perform math at their expected grade levels.

Those statistics are a far cry from the MAP scores the mayor and CPS officials are promoting.

And while students’ NAEP gains in fourth-grade reading and eighth-grade math are encouraging, that growth doesn’t change the fact that a vast majority of CPS students in those grades are still drastically underperforming.

PARCC results found that only 23 percent of eighth-graders tested at or above grade level for math. And other state data show just 18 percent of CPS eighth-graders passed Algebra I in 2016.

In addition, state data show only 22 percent of CPS fourth-graders tested at or above grade level for math, and 30 percent test at or above grade level for reading.

CPS’ poor third-grade reading scores

Third-grade students’ ability to read is an especially important marker of achievement.

Basic third-grade reading ability is essential for students because half of the printed learning material in the fourth grade is incomprehensible to a student reading below that level, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Students who don’t master third-grade reading will struggle throughout the rest of their school careers.

Unfortunately, a vast majority of CPS third-grade students don’t meet that important standard. According to PARCC scores, 2 out of every 3 third-graders failed to meet or exceed reading standards in 2016.

What’s worse, those students never get the chance to catch up. CPS’ grade promotion policy, like other districts across the state, still tends to pass students from each grade on to the next even when they are not ready for the next level.

CPS fails to prepare students for life after high school

The mayor has also drawn attention to CPS’ increasing graduation rate – saying 73.5 percent of students graduate and that CPS is sending students to college in “record numbers.”

But most students who do graduate aren’t ready to pursue their education or careers further. Only 30 percent of CPS graduates are considered college- or career-ready, as determined by their ACT scores.

As a result, more than 70 percent of CPS students who enter community college require remedial coursework in reading and math.

Creating real student achievement in CPS

City and CPS officials touting the results of one set of tests without acknowledging the district’s need for improvement does a great disservice to both parents and students.

Students’ math and reading gains on the NAEP test are encouraging, but students’ PARCC scores – and actual post-CPS experiences – show the district still has a long way to go on student achievement.

Ensuring greater student success will require substantial reforms. But one of the most important things CPS can do right now for students is to make sure that no third-grader moves on to the fourth grade until he or she is reading-ready.

Making sure students are able to learn fourth-grade material before they leave the third grade is essential to ensure that all students have a solid base on which to build.

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