A record number of Chicago public elementary school students are meeting or exceeding Illinois reading and math standards, setting a new all-time district high - all despite a late state mandate requiring English Language Learners to take the test for the first time, Mayor Richard M. Daley and school officials announced Monday.
According to preliminary data from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), the district’s composite score - which captures reading, math, and science --increased 1.3 percentage points this year, marking the seventh year that CPS test scores have increased. That means 65.4 percent of all students met or exceeded state standards across all subjects in the 2007-2008 school year, up from 64.1 percent the previous year.
A "true apples-to-apples comparison" without English Language Learners included---would show a 3.7 percent increase to 67.8 percent meeting or exceeding state standards, district officials said.
"More important, we are making steady gains over time, with hundreds of schools making progress on ISAT over the last seven years, including this one," Mayor Daley said at E.F. Young elementary, 1434 N. Parkside Ave., where composite scores rose 36.3 percentage points, from 18.7 percent of students meeting or exceeding standards in 2001 to almost 55 percent in 2008. "We're making great strides in the right direction, thanks to the dedication of our principals, the hard work of our teachers, the guidance of many of our parents, and the growing number of community partners that have teamed up with us to help this district improve."
Fifth-graders, in particular, stood out in reading and math on this year's ISAT exam, given to third - through eighth-graders every spring.
"While this means that an increasing number of students have improved their performance in the classroom, let’s remember that we still have a lot of work to do to help students who are still struggling in a handful of schools," the mayor said. "We all need to continue to raise the bar on students and their teachers, to close failing schools, and create new schools that give families quality choices.
Without the inclusion of ELL students, scores for all racial and ethnic groups increased. African-American students went from 54.2 percent meeting or exceeding standards on the composite to 58.3 percent, and Hispanic students went from 72.0 percent to 74.4 percent. Since 2001, when the percentage of African-American students meeting or exceeding standards was 30.5 percent, the percentage has nearly doubled. Hispanic students have increased nearly 34 percentage points, from 2001’s 40.8 percent.
"A true apples-to-apples comparison, this year to last year, shows larger gains, but it all points to the fact that our core strategies are working," said CPS CEO Arne Duncan. "And we’re proud that district-wide, more of our students are finding themselves in the exceeding-state-standards category, across subjects."
The preliminary data shows that the percentage of students exceeding state standards, or performing above their grade in various subjects, also rose. Last year, the ISAT composite score was 11.4 percent of students exceeding state standards, which jumped up to 13.1 percent this year. In reading, 12.8 percent of students exceeded standards, up from 10.3 percent last year. In math, 14.9 percent of students exceeded standards, up from 14 percent last year, and in science 8.3 percent exceeded standards, up from 7.1 percent last year.
"These steady gains over multiple schools are moving us in the right direction to close the achievement gap," said Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams said. "It's the kind of progress you want to see. It is real improvement, year after year."
Not including ELL students, 66.7 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in reading this year, up from 60.9 in the previous year, an increase of 5.8 percentage points. Fifth-graders made a particularly significant improvement, going from 52.5 percent of students meeting or exceeding last year to 60.1 percent this year. In 2001 only 34.5 percent of fifth-graders met or exceeded standards in reading.
In math, 70.6 percent of students met or exceeded state standards, an increase of two points over last year, when 68.6 percent of students met or exceeded standards. Again, fifth-graders showed improvement, going from 65.5 percent meeting or exceeding last year to 68.9 percent this year, and up from 32.3 percent in 2001.
Both fourth - and seventh-graders, the only grades to have consistently taken the science test since 2001, have shown consistent improvement. In 2001, 36.4 percent of fourth graders met or exceeded standards. That number rose to 57.4 percent by 2007 and again to 60.2 percent this year. In 2001, 51.6 percent of seventh-graders met or exceeded standards, compared to 62.8 last year and 64.7 this year.
During the past spring's testing period, the district learned that English Language Learners (ELLs) would have to take the ISAT for the first time. In the past, those students were allowed to take the IMAGE, a test specifically designed for students who are learning English. ELL students range from those who do not speak or understand any English to those with limited English abilities.
The composite score for this year with ELL students included is 65.4 per cent, reading is 63.5 and math is 69.1.
CPS, other districts, and parents of ELL students argued that ELL students would not have had enough time to prepare for or enough test-taking accommodations to take an exam that would yield results that truly measured their knowledge of a particular subject. But the state still required ELL students to take the ISAT.
"Providing a world class education to every child is not just my mission - it's our city’s mission and I want to thank every parent, teacher and community and business leader for their ongoing support," Daley said.
"Over the last thirteen years there have always been those who said our children weren't up to the challenge and that we’d never turn around our schools and graduate students prepared to compete in the global economy.
"Of course, there's more to be done -- especially to turn around our underperforming schools. But, we should never underestimate the commitment of every student in every school in Chicago to do their best.
"They've shown they’re up to the challenge," he said.
Currently, more than 65,000 students are considered English Language Learners within CPS, which has the highest number of ELL students in the state. The Chicago Public Schools is the nation’s third largest school system. It includes more than 650 schools and serves about 405,000 students.