ISBE, CPS Don’t Agree on Who’s Failing

At the end of each school year, Chicago Public Schools tells tens of thousands of students they have failed the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT) and must attend summer school. Yet, after attending summer school, some of those same students then receive scores from the same test stating they meet state expectations.

According to the Chicago Public Schools Elementary School Promotion Policy any student in 3rd, 6th or 8th grade who scores below the 24th percentile on one or two of the SAT-10 portions of the state test automatically attends summer school. CPS sent 26,992 students in those “benchmark grades” to summer school in 2008. However, 1,412 of those same students who scored below the CPS cutoff point in math were also found by the state to meet the standard in math. And 13,071 students who scored below the CPS cutoff point in math were also found by the state to fall in the state’s below standards category rather the lowest category termed academic warning. The state found only 3,430 students to be at the academic warning level in math, and even less in reading. The difference in results were similar in 2006 and 2007, according to information received from CPS by Parents United for Responsible Education in response to a Freedom of Information Act request.

The discrepancy occurs because CPS bases its promotion policy on only two small subsets of the overall test (30 or 40 questions each) that are graded quickly to determine who must attend summer school. These scores don’t necessarily match with the scores received after the state scores the entire test. When asked about the correlation between CPS cutoff score and the state standard levels, CPS responded that the correlation “is an ISBE matter.” ISBE, on the other hand, stated in a related FOIA request that “Using ISAT scores as the basis for student promotion and retention is not an ISBE policy or practice.” In fact, it is Chicago Public Schools, not the Illinois State Board of Education, which has established the 24th percentile mark as the determinant for promotion. Since that mark does not relate to the state standard levels, it seems reasonable to wonder, on what basis was it chosen?