Posts Tagged ‘flunking’

PURE response to proposed changes in CPS promotion policy

Monday, October 21st, 2013

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.


New CPS promotion policy more of the same

Friday, October 18th, 2013

dogandponyOver the past few days, CPS has been putting on dog and pony shows for parents and others about the “new” student promotion policy.

Parents were not given copies of the actual policy either ahead of time or at the presentation. Instead, they had to squint at slides in a powerpoint presentation showing a before (2013) and after parent guide outlining the basics of the policy changes, which amount to little more than swapping out one high-stakes nationally-normed standardized test for another, as they have done a few times over the life of this failed program.

In today’s Tribune, reporter Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah quotes CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett saying, “This current policy that we have has become outdated. The new policy takes a much more balanced approached to measuring student success.”

Not so. Here’s my quote from the story:

Julie Woestehoff, executive director of Parents United for Responsible Education, has long argued that the district’s policy on holding students back is too heavily based on assessment tests. She does not support the new policy, which continues to be based largely on test scores and, she said, is designed to save the expense of putting kids through summer school.

Woestehoff said summer school and holding students back are expensive propositions for the district. “CPS is paying for summer school, and in addition it’s paying for an extra school year for students who in some years have been as many as 10,000,” she said.

More on this later. The policy will be voted on at the Oct. 23rd Board meeting.

“A huge mistake” – Chicago increases drop outs, kills successful programs

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

We have persistently urged Chicago school leaders to stop flunking students because flunking doesn’t work, costs too much, and raises the drop out rate.

A report coming out today puts a dollar cost on the human tragedy of school drop outs. It’s a lot, as Greg Hinz points out in Crain’s:

“The study, based on U.S. Census data, suggests that dropouts nationally will be a net drain on the government, collecting an average of $70,850 more in benefits like food stamps in their lifetimes than they’ll pay in taxes. In comparison, the typical high school grad will make a net positive contribution of $236,060.”

Compare this drain on the economy with the huge benefit of programs like Chicago’s Child Parent Centers, which, according to University of Minnesota professor Arthur C Reynolds, returned an estimated $11 for every $1 spent. Until CPS shut the programs down as “too costly.”

“A huge mistake”
In a 2009 Early Ed Watch blog article, Lisa Guernsey wrote,

Consider an education program so effective that its impact can be measured 19 years later, so well-studied that it can be backed up with decades of scientific evidence on children’s improved skills in math and reading, and so impressive to policymakers that it continues to be championed around the country 40 years after its launch. These are the superlatives that come with Chicago’s Child Parent Centers. So you might figure they’re flourishing as part of the Chicago Public Schools’ early childhood programs, right? Not so. Their numbers are dwindling. In the mid-1980s, there were at least 25 CPCs serving more than 1,500 children. By 2006, there were 13. Today, 11 are still open, according to the Promising Practices Network. Enrollment in 2009, as reported by the Chicago Public Schools, is down to 670, less than half of what it once was. It now represents just 2 percent of the system’s total preschool enrollment.

Update to Guernsey’s numbers: Looks as though another CPC has closed since her article. CPS now only lists 10 CPCs.

According to Guernsey, Dr. Reynolds believes that Chicago’s misguided focus on flunking students was a major factor in the demise of the CPCs:
Reynolds lays much of the blame on the push to end “social promotion” – the practice of advancing children to the next grade despite failing grades – that marked the Chicago Public Schools in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This was when Paul Vallas and then Arne Duncan were leading the schools. “It was a decision made by Vallas and continued by Duncan,” Reynolds said. “It ended up being a huge mistake.” The school district spent “hundreds of millions” on remedial efforts that had little effect on students’ progress, he said, siphoning money away from early education.
Another culprit may be the No Child Left Behind Act and its over-emphasis on reading and math. Barbara Bowman, head of CPS Early Childhood Programs, told Guernsey about the department’s focus shift due to “the newfound emphasis on literacy instruction that came in the early part of this decade before she came on board. As officials looked at how to allocate the schools’ money, Bowman said, ‘The Title I funds for literacy grew, and the Title I funds for early childhood shrank.’ “
It’s not just the corruption on view today at the Federal building that we all need to keep our eyes on. It’s the day-to-day mismanagement and misdirection of precious taxpayer dollars which somehow always end sup hurting our most vulnerable people.

CPS “reforms” increased achievement gap

Monday, November 14th, 2011

The Consortium on Chicago School Research has found that Chicago school leaders’ boasts of “dramatic” improvements in our schools over the past 20 years were greatly exaggerated.

In fact, CCSR says, “(A) number of dramatic system-wide initiatives were enacted. But instead of bringing dramatic changes in student achievement, district-wide changes were incremental—when they occurred at all.”

CCSR also found that the achievement gap between white and African-American students has actually widened during the past 20 years of school reform in Chicago, and most markedly while Education Secretary Arne Duncan was CPS CEO.

The decline in equity, with African American students falling behind students from other racial/ethnic groups, is particularly disturbing and has raised questions about the policies around school closings and openings, which disproportionately affected African American students. As we have presented these findings, some people have wondered whether students were hurt by the shuffling of students that occurred when schools were closed, or whether neighborhood schools declined as charter schools proliferated. One CCSR study showed no improvements in test scores for students who were displaced by school closings.

A good place to start making changes

PURE has challenged many of the “reforms” instituted under mayoral control in Chicago, including school closings. We have been especially aggressive fighting against the misuse and overuse of high-stakes standardized tests and CPS’s harmful, ineffective, wasteful elementary student promotion policy. Ending that program would be a good way to redirect the district’s energies in more positive ways.

I sent a letter to CPS CEO Jean-Claude Brizard this morning asking for a meeting to discuss PURE’s recommendations for alternatives to retention. Now is an especially good time for this discussion since the Office for Civil Rights is concluding their resolution process for our December 2010 discrimination complaint against the CPS policy.

I also sent this letter to the Tribune, which reported on the CCSR study in today’s edition:

Your report about the growing achievement gap between white and African-American students over 20 years of “reform” in the Chicago Public Schools reaffirms our organization's strong opposition to one of the most harmful of these initiatives, the practice of flunking students based on their scores on the annual state tests.

The misuse of and over-emphasis on test scores caused by pressures from media, corporate-style education reformers, and misguided federal laws has forced schools nationwide to teach to these tests, focusing one-sidedly on rote skills and ignoring higher-level thinking. The impact is greater in schools that serve low-income youth, particularly students of color, whose education these laws and policies were supposedly designed to improve.

Chicago’s flunking policy has increased the dropout rate of retained students, has not improved their academic outcomes, wastes some $100 million in scarce school funds every year, and disproportionately affects African-American students.

It must be ended and replaced with intervention and support strategies that we know actually work, such as the Child Parent Center early education model, lower class size, and increased parental involvement.

It's time to stop evaluating and punishing students based on unreliable and often discriminatory standardized tests and put our efforts into programs that really help them.





PSAT for 8-30-11: Fight flunking!

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011


We’re still waiting to learn the results of the federal investigation into our December 2010 Office for Civil Rights discrimination complaint against Chicago’s policy of flunking students based on their state test scores, and now another round of flunking is going on.

It’s likely that OCR is giving the new Brizard administration time to respond to the complaint, but meanwhile there are now thousands more children facing the first day of school with a sense of dread and failure thanks to this horrible CPS policy.

Parents are telling us that the appeal process is nothing more than a school official repeating the test score back to you. They’re right.

We know that flunking students usually doesn’t help them, and often harms them. We know that the policy has been costing upwards of $100 million per year, money that would be better spent lowering class size or using other reform strategies that actually work.

For Public Schools Action Tuesday today, please reach out to any parent of a retained student or simply share this information with your networks. Tell parents of affected children that they can contact PURE for assistance, or simply file a complaint with OCR themselves at this link. They can reference PURE’s complaint number #05111064 to incorporate the information and concerns we provided into their own complaint.

Let’s continue to fight this costly failure of a policy – TIME TO FLUNK FLUNKING!

More evidence that grade retention is a stupid idea

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

Monty Neill just sent around this Ed Week article summary:

Countries in which schools frequently hold back or kick out students with low academic performance tend to have weaker, more expensive, and more socially inequitable education systems overall according to an analysis by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. [See - the link on the EW page was to wrong study - mn]

In comparing the results of the Program for International Student Assessment in 65 countries, OECD researchers found that differences among countries grade-retention trends could explain up to 15 percent of the variance among average scores on the 2009 PISA. The United States reported an average of more than one in 10 students repeating a grade, higher than the OECD average, while top-performing Finland and South Korea do not allow grade retention. Fewer than 3 percent of students in 13 countries reported ever repeating a grade, while more than 25 percent of students repeated at least one in France, Spain, and 13 other countries.

It’s flunking season in CPS – here are some ideas about what to do

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

We are already getting calls and e-mails from parents who are getting those unwelcome letters from Chicago Public Schools telling them that their children will not be able to participate in eighth grade graduation, and, along with some third and sixth graders, will have to go to summer school in order to be promoted.

Usually these notices come as a complete surprise to parents, who have been paying attention to their children’s report cards and have seen little to indicate that there was a problem.

That’s because in CPS, it’s primarily the student’s state test score that triggers the summer school requirement and possibly flunking.

Please help us get the word out to parents that they can challenge the decision – especially the one barring students from eighth grade graduation. We urge those parents to go immediately to the school principal. Some principals allow students to walk even if they are going to have to go to summer school.

To challenge the non-promotion decision, parents need to call the Office of Elementary Areas and Schools: (773) 553-2150. If she is still there, ask for Alice Painter or whoever is doing what she did.

Unfortunately, CPS still has a promotion policy that requires students to “pass” both the state reading and the state math test in order to graduate from eighth grade or be promoted from third of sixth grade without having to go to summer school.

Parents can ask for a review of the decision but that review mostly consists of looking at the test scores again.

PURE filed a complaint last December against CPS with the Office for Civil Rights of the US Department of Education over this policy. We are still waiting to hear the results of their investigation.

Here’s a tip sheet for parents with more information and ideas for dealing with this immoral, ineffective, and expensive policy: What to Do if your Child is not Promoted.

Parents should also contact us for more assistance.

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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.