By TONIA HILL
Community members, education advocates, and students gathered at Kenwood Academy High School Monday, Feb. 12, evening to examine what makes a school great and how school-level ratings factor into that determination.
Much of the discussion on Tuesday centered on the school rating system that is currently in effect with the Chicago Public Schools system and the state of Illinois’ ranking system and how those systems do not encompass all that makes a school great.
Jack Schneider, assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, was the keynote speaker for the forum. He argues that it is not demography, nor test scores and ratings that help make a great school. A marker of a great school, he said, should be if it is helping young people to develop into their full human potential.
“When people talk about schools as if they are good or bad they neglect the fact that schools are not uniformly good or bad. Most of the measures available to us ignore most of what we care about when we talk about good or bad schools,” Schneider said.
Schneider also authored the book “Beyond Test Scores: A Better Way to Measure School” and director of research at the Massachusetts Consortium for Innovative Education Assessment.
CPS uses the School Quality Rating Policy to measure annual school performance. It is a five-tiered performance system based on student test performance, student academic growth, the closing of achievement gaps, school culture and climate, attendance, graduation and preparation for post-graduation success.
Schools are in turn given rankings based on the policy which can range between levels: 1+, 1, 2, 2+ and 3 with one being the highest performance and three being the lowest performance and that is in need of “intensive intervention.”
On CPS’ website the public, parents, and students can look up each school in the district. Within the description of the school are its overall ranking, test scores, school size, demographics and more.
“As a school has high ratings and a good reputation that drives enrollment,” said Cassie Creswell, an education advocate and board member of Raise Your Hand Action. “If your [school’s] reputation is poor and people stay away you are dropping enrollment. [Enrollment] drives property values.”
CPS uses a student-based budgeting model for funding, which is directly tied to a school’s enrollment. Each extra student means more funding for the particular school.
Raise Your Hand Action is the sister organization to Raise Your Hand for Illinois Public Education a parent advocacy group.
Creswell noted that CPS rating system is heavily dependent on test scores and how a school’s rating determines what resources are available. She also argued that low enrollment and low ratings are used to justify school closings.
Raise Your Hand began in 2010 to address insufficient education funding and a possible increase to increase class size to 37 students.
At the start of the program, representatives from Raise Your Hand, one of the sponsors for the event, asked attendees to evaluate their neighborhood schools and determine whether or not CPS’ rating system provides a fair assessment of their school.
A panel also discussed the districts rating system and each member agreed that the policy does not have any real value and it does not accurately depict the relationship the school has with its students, parents and the local community.
“A clerk who’s been at the school for 25 years that knows all the parents and students by name that’s not [shown] in the school’s ratings,” said Jeanette Taylor, education organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, and LSC member at Mollison Elementary School in Bronzeville. “CPS doesn’t even respect its own ratings. They’re closing a level one school the National Teacher’s Academy [NTA].”
NTA an elementary school in the South Loop is slated for closure. It will be converted to a new neighborhood high school serving all or portions of the South Loop, Bronzeville, Bridgeport, Chinatown and near south side neighborhoods. The conversion would begin in fall of 2019. Current NTA students would be allowed to stay at the school and attend the high school.
“Under no circumstances do I think a rating like that is proper or shows what a school truly is,” said Jen Nava, a sophomore at Kelly High School in Brighton Park neighborhood. Nava added that the rating system should show that students are getting the support that they need. “Test scores should be at the very bottom.”
Felicia Williams is a 16-year CPS teacher at Langston Hughes Elementary School located in the Roseland neighborhood. Williams said her school’s programming is not reflected in the rating system. “School ratings have no real value,” she said.
Eric Reyes is a CPS graduate, parent and LSC member. His daughter attends Telpochcalli Elementary School located in the Little Village neighborhood.
In 2012, Reyes was going through the process of selecting a school for his daughter. She received offer letters from highly rated magnet schools on the north side.
Though the schools had high rankings, he and his wife chose to send their daughter to another school, Telpochcalli, which at the time had a low rating.
“We knew right off the bat that test scores weren’t measuring the things that we like,” Reyes said. “There’s a great fine arts program there..and supportive services for parents. “They [the school’s administration] organized ways for parents to sign over temporary guardianship in case they were detained by ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).”
The Chicago Teachers Union, Chicago Teachers Union Foundation, FairTest, Generation All, Parents 4 Teachers and Raise Your Hand also sponsored the event.