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U of C Study: CPS Students Reading at Same Levels as 20 Years Ago

By Chris Bentley in News on Sep 30, 2011 4:40PM

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Here’s something sure to stoke the flames of the increasingly volatile and very public debate over what to do with Chicago Public Schools: A new report by the University of Chicago’ Consortium on Chicago School Research found no real progress in elementary school reading scores over the last 20 years.

While math scores have improved “incrementally” in CPS grade schools, the study found racial gaps in both math and reading widened.

Although elementary school test scores appear to have languished at the hands of reform programs under former Mayor Richard Daley, high school graduation rates and ACT scores have shown “dramatic improvement,” the study found:

“What’s surprising is the results we came up with are the opposite of what publicly reported statistics show,” said the Consortium’s Stuart Luppescu, lead author of the study. “Publicly reported statistics show the elementary schools improving, and the high schools have been flat.”

According the findings, Chicago high schools took in unprepared freshmen each year and managed to bump up average ACT scores and graduate an increasing number of students.

But over the 20 years that elementary-grade scores showed “only incremental gains in math and almost no growth in reading,” publicly reported statistics said CPS made “tremendous progress,” according to the study.

But the city’s rosy picture of school progress might not be deliberate whitewashing:

Changes to the state tests, including changes in content and scoring , makes “year over year comparisons nearly impossible without complex statistical analyses, such as those undertaken for this report,” Consortium researchers contended.

Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard drew attention to the report as ammo in the fight for a longer school day.

Others hoped the report might highlight the futility of excessive testing. Sharon Schmidt, head of the Chicago Teachers Union’s testing committee, told the Sun-Times that a typical CPS student takes more than 100 off-the-shelf tests by graduation.