Posts Tagged ‘student promotion’

Chicago parents to CPS: use report card grades, not test scores, for promotion

Tuesday, November 12th, 2013

gradeDminusPress release **** For immediate release *** November 12, 2013

Parents Give district a “D” for its test-focused policY

Chicago, IL: Today, tens of thousands of Chicago Public Schools (CPS)parents will flock to their children’s schools to pick up student report cards and meet with teachers. They look forward to these meetings as an important step in strengthening the home-school connection. Report card pick-up day is the best opportunity most parents have to learn how to help their children succeed in school from the people that know the most about how to do that – their children’s teachers.

Parents take the report cards home and study them. They discuss them with their children – sometimes those are happy discussions, sometimes not so happy! Parents sign the back of the report card and slide the cards into their children’s backpacks, often taking that moment to resolve to do more to help their children learn and improve in the weeks ahead.

This process has been meaningful to parents for decades, but it’s been increasingly pushed aside as school districts like CPS give standardized test scores more and more power over students, teachers and schools.

Parents from the Chicago group More Than a Score disagree with this trend, and have presented CPS with an alternative promotion policy that relies primarily on report card grades and uses standardized test scores in the way they were intended to be used, as diagnostic tools and not high-stakes “gotcha” measures.

More Than a Score parents give CPS a “D” grade for a promotion policy that continues to focus too much on test scores and ignores the value of report cards.

Report cards are the only evaluations that look at the students’ work over time and across all areas of learning. They are the only evaluations done by experienced, qualified adults who personally observe and assess each student’s progress,” said CPS parent Julie Fain.“That’s the kind of information that makes sense to parents and actually helps children. When we get our children’s standardized test scores at the end of the year, we don’t get to see the questions or their answers. We have no idea whether they missed a certain concept or were just distracted for part of the test. In any case, our children are so over-tested that these results have become less and less useful to parents.”

The CPS promotion policy begins and ends with the state test score,” said Julie Woestehoff, head of Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE). “Most of the information from report cards is ignored by CPS when end-of-the-year promotion decisions are made.”

I believe standardize testing is a harsh way to keep a child from thinking outside the box. All our children have different needs, speeds, and challenges. I have witnessed up close and personal the emotional stress testing causes – creating a lack of self-esteem while labeling my children as dumb only because they did not meet your standardized laws. I support my children by opting them out of testing,” said Rousemary Vega, a CPS parent.

Parents who have opted their children out of standardized tests are also confused and concerned because the new promotion policy just swapped one high-stakes test (the SAT-10), for another (NWEA), making opting out more difficult.

Since the promotion policy was first implemented in 1996 by Paul Vallas, it has focused on test scores on the Iowa test, then the IGAP, ISAT, and SAT 10. The new proposal substitutes the NWEA, which CPS officials say is just temporary until they replace it with the PARCC Common Core tests.

How are we supposed to keep track of this alphabet soup of tests?” asks Linda Schmidt, a CPS parent who notified her child’s school at the beginning of this school year that she does not want her student to take the NWEA. “Will my child be held back next August because I made a decision last September?”

Policymakers often cite the subjective nature of teacher grades as a reason for giving them less weight than standardized tests scores. However, test questions are written by subjective human beings, too, and test makers consistently state that their tests should not be used to make high-stakes decisions about children. The manual for the SAT-10, which CPS used last year to retain students, states that 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” – just the kind of information in report cards.

“What’s wrong with report cards?” asked Wanda Hopkins, the parent of a CPS high school student. “If CPS does not trust teacher grades, they need to explain why and what they are doing to fix it. I trust my child’s teacher more than I trust for-profit test companies.”  

Parents with More Than a Score believe that our proposed promotion policy offers an alternative to the CPS test-based promotion policy that respects input from teachers, avoids the pitfalls of standardized test misuse and retention, makes sense to parents, and – most importantly – provides a higher quality evaluation of each student’s progress and needs.

See more at

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.


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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.