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Chicago Elementary Students Exceed State Average in Writing

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State test scores released last week in Illinois show that school reform in Chicago may have led to substantial improvements in the writing ability of the city's elementary school students.

Average writing scores for the elementary grades tested--3rd, 6th, and 8th--have risen steadily in Chicago since 1990. In that year, the legislature set benchmarks designed to measure the effects of the Chicago school-reform law passed two years earlier.

In the results from tests conducted last spring, the average writing score for Chicago elementary students for the first time exceeded the 1990 benchmarks. The share of Chicago elementary students meeting the state writing standards in each grade ranged from 73 percent to 88 percent, district officials said.

"This is the first time in modern history that Chicago schools have met state standards in any subject on any standardized state or national achievement test," Donald Moore, the executive director of the local advocacy group Designs for Change, said last week.

The overall writing scores of Chicago students remained, however, below the average scores of other Illinois students, in part because statewide scores on the writing test have improved as well.

Reforms Credited

Designs for Change played a major role in writing the 1988 Chicago school-reform law, which set up local school councils as part of an attempt to decentralize the district's operations. The group's leaders said last week that the scores on student essays may have improved because the reform law gave schools more freedom to try new teacher-training programs.

The results come as some local education advocates are voicing fears that the district's gains may be undermined by recent changes introduced under new authority granted to Mayor Richard M. Daley. (See Education Week, Oct. 11, 1995.)

The state legislature earlier this year gave the mayor broad control over the 407,000-student district.

"Test scores are playing a very big role" in the debate over reforming the city's schools, said G. Alfred Hess Jr., the executive director of the nonprofit Chicago Panel on School Policy.

Although mathematics scores for 3rd and 6th graders also improved, reflecting a statewide trend, district officials cautioned that the writing scores of 10th graders--as well as the reading scores for all grades tested--still provide cause for concern.

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