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Tougher School Evaluations Expected to Surprise Chicago

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The Chicago school district is adopting a more rigorous internal-evaluation system that judges schools on how well they prepare students for college, a move that promises to be an eye-opener for many parents and could lead to more schools being closed.

The current evaluation process already paints a bleak picture: 42 percent of schools are on probation for low-academic performance and poor attendance, 72 of them for five straight years or longer.

Maps presented to the school board last week also showed a correlation between some of the city’s poorest-performing schools and schools that are underenrolled. “Our parents are voting with their feet,” Oliver Sicat, the district’s chief portfolio officer, told the board. “They’re choosing to move to areas with higher-quality schools.”

The 409,000-student district’s previous school evaluation method looked at the number of students who met Illinois Standards Achievement Test benchmarks, an unreliable college-readiness indicator, Mr. Sicat said. Under the new system, along with their child’s report cards, parents will be given a chart detailing the child’s school’s performance against benchmarks such as district assessments and college-readiness scores that are more closely aligned with the common-core standards.

The district spotlighted the poor performance as it prepared to issue guidelines for school closure announcements. A new state law requires district officials to release a list of schools slated for closing by Dec. 1.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis told the board that in alerting parents at report-card-pickup time, the district was trying to “terrify” them into supporting closings and turnaround projects.

But the district’s chief executive officer, Jean-Claude Brizard, stressed that the district’s widening achievement gap is a serious problem that officials must address. In a speech to the Urban League last week, he said, “As an educator” and “as a black man, it is unacceptable to me.”

Vol. 31, Issue 10, Page 5

Published in Print: November 2, 2011, as Tougher School Evaluations Expected to Surprise Chicago
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