Cairo Association of Teachers - Newsletter

CAT Tracks for July 18, 2006

State test scores in the Chicago Public Schools took a dramatic jump...from 47.3% of 3rd through 8th graders passing to 62.5%.

But a writer for the Chicao Tribune says, before celebrating, read the fine print...

An `A' for everybody!

They must be teaching some new kind of fuzzy math at Chicago Public Schools.

This week Mayor Richard Daley and school officials announced a dramatic jump in the number of pupils who passed their state standardized tests last spring. Daley said this was a "historic day."

"With these results," said Daley, "it's clear we are on our way to becoming the best urban school district in the nation."

Whoa there, Mr. Mayor. How did we get this "historic" jump in performance?

Illinois State Board of Education officials sharply reduced the requirement for a passing score in 8th grade math. We didn't dramatically improve performance. We dramatically lowered the bar.

The desire to show progress in the city's public school system is easy to understand. Progress seems to have slowed after the initial revolution just over a decade ago, when City Hall took over the reins. Indeed that has been frustrating. But please, don't try to sell this as dramatic progress.

City officials reported that 62.5 percent of 3rd through 8th graders in Chicago public schools passed the Illinois Standards Achievement Test. That was a jump from 47.3 percent the previous year.

But the state board in that time lowered the passing score for 8th grade math from the 67th to the 38th percentile. Yes, the score for meeting state standards was cut almost in half.

Back in February, the Illinois Business Roundtable said the change would result in 32,000 more Illinois pupils meeting the math requirement "on the basis of an administrative stroke of the pen."

"This action ... diminishes the work and achievement of those who have met our standards; and it tells those who have failed to meet our standards that it's OK ... our administration will change the rules before changing the education our students receive," the business group wrote in a sharply critical letter to the board.

Other changes helped to improve results. Pupils were given 10 more minutes to complete their reading, math and science exams. A new color format offered more vibrant charts and graphics. In Chicago, for the first time, students took two preliminary tests that highlighted their deficits. The city also dropped the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which allowed teachers to focus their efforts on one test.

Those aren't all unreasonable steps--but some seem clearly designed to produce better numbers, not better-educated kids.

With the changes, it's very difficult if not impossible to compare this year's results with last year's. Maybe Chicago public school students did make progress. But how can anyone tell?