PURE response to proposed changes in CPS promotion policy

CPS logoWe expect that the Chicago Board of Education will rubber-stamp a “new” promotion policy on Wednesday that will change none of the high-stakes testing and retention effects of the old policy.

PURE is presenting the following critique of the proposed policy at an LSC Advisory Board meeting this afternoon, along with what we think is a better alternative.

Response to proposed CPS 2013-14 Promotion Policy

by Julie Woestehoff for Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) October 20, 2013


In 1999, PURE filed a discrimination complaint with the U. S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against the existing Chicago Public Schools Student Promotion Policy charging that the Policy had a disparate, damaging impact on African-American students. At the time, CPS used single scores on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills to make promotion decisions. After a year of federal investigation and complaint resolution, CPS changed the Policy to include consideration of grades and parental requests for reviews.

PURE filed a second complaint in 2010 based on the Policy’s continued use of single test scores as the predominant promotion barrier. This complaint is under investigation and has not yet been resolved.

Problems with proposed Policy

PURE believes that the proposed Policy continues to result in too many retentions and to misuse standardized test scores in a way that damages children and their education. The proposed changes to the current Policy are minimal and amount to little more than a swap of one high-stakes nationally-normed standardized test for another. PURE’s major criticisms of the policy are as follows.

  • Focus on failed, harmful retention strategy

More than 40 years of educational research has found that flunking students is risky, can have harmful effects, and leads to higher dropout rates. Research in Chicago confirms the policy’s failure and the damage it causes. The conclusion of the Consortium on Chicago School Research in its landmark study, Ending Social Promotion, could not be clearer:

Did retaining these low-achieving students help? The answer to this question is decidedly no. In the third grade, there is no evidence that retention led to greater achievement growth two years after the promotional gate, and in the sixth grade, we find significant evidence that retention was associated with lower achievement growth(emphasis added).

The Consortium also found that the CPS promotion policy has made the dropout rate worse.

  • Misuse of nationally-normed standardized test

Since the Policy was first implemented in 1996, it has been based on high-stakes use of test scores on a series of standardized tests: the Iowa test, IGAP, ISAT, and SAT 10. The new proposal substitutes the NWEA and CPS indicates that the NWEA will ultimately be replaced by PARCC tests.

But professional opinion about the way CPS uses these tests has not changed. Assessment professionals are clear that single test scores are not reliable or adequate measures of student progress and should not be used for high-stakes decisions. The tests were not designed for that purpose and should not be used that way.

For example, the publisher of the SAT10, used in the current Policy, says that for student promotion decisions, test scores “should be just one of the many factors considered and probably should receive less weight than factors such as teacher observation, day-to-day classroom performance, maturity level, and attitude.

  • Multiple barriers, not multiple measures

Despite CPS’s claims that the Policy uses multiple measures, each measure acts instead as a single deciding factor which by itself can be used to retain the student. In other words, CPS students must meet test cut scores and grade standards in order to be promoted without attending summer school. Many students who do not meet the cut score in June must retake the test and receive an acceptable score in August in order to be promoted – a kind of educational “double jeopardy.”

  • Inadequate summer school and follow-up support

The “new and improved” summer school program CPS proposes sounds a lot like hours and hours of computer test prep: “weekly acceleration/intervention sessions as part of the full school day; access to instructional tool that provides focused lessons based on individual needs,” which CPS calls “personalization” (slide 14 of CPS PowerPoint Presentation)

But personalization is not achieved by plopping a student in front of a computer program that “senses” his/her level, like a video game. Struggling students need extra adult attention, not less, and they need the professional approach that only a trained, experienced teacher can provide. An “instructional tool” cannot replace a teacher.

  • Inadequate notice to parents and the community

Despite PURE’s outstanding OCR complaint against the Policy, and our longstanding documented interest in the Policy, we were never notified about nor invited to any of the focus groups.

Attendees at the focus groups were not given advance copies of the proposal to review nor paper copies to view at the meetings or take home to share. In any case, notice came too late for meaningful review prior to Oct. 24th Board action.

It’s easy to infer that CPS has no intention of incorporating stakeholder concerns or suggestions into the amended Policy.

What’s best for children

CPS claims that it “bases every decision on what is best for children” (slide 5). However, this statement is contradicted in the first three slides, which clearly indicate that the changes in the Policy are driven by 1) changes in test availability and 2) an administrative rule that changes in the Policy must be voted on before November report card pick up day.

There are many better ways of evaluating students and assuring that they are progressing. CPS’s Policy is data-driven, not child-driven. It begins and ends with one high-stakes standardized test. Please see PURE’s alternative proposal for a more comprehensive student-centered approach.


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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.