The grades are in for Chicago Public Schools, and Austin schools might be entitled to a treat after getting high marks from CPS.
Of the 26 public and charter schools evaluated in Austin for the 2013-2014 school year, 12 saw their performance improve over the previous year, eight experienced no change and six had no data from 2013 to compare the results to. (Five of those six are charter schools.)
No schools in Austin experienced a drop in performance levels.
The biggest change in this year’s rating system was CPS increasing the number of tiers from three to five.
The system still uses Levels 1 through 3, with Level 1 being the highest or best score and level 3 the lowest. But it now includes a Level 1+ and a Level 2+.
Also new this year was CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett using her discretionary power to retain a top-level school’s performance ranking, even though its scores would have otherwise dropped the school down in ranking.
Citywide, there were 12 schools in the district that benefited from Byrd-Bennett’s new power; George Leland Elementary was the only Austin school to receive the boost, which left the school at a Level 1.
“With Leland, last year they experienced a change in more than 55 percent of students, along with an addition of grades 4-8, when they became a welcoming school,” CPS spokeswoman Lauren Huffman wrote in an email.
“Byrd-Bennett looked at dramatic changes in student population, teacher turnover, principal contract, any changes in academic focus at the school and welcoming school status,” Huffman said.
Leland became a welcoming school last year after CPS closed 50 schools citywide in 2013. It’s now housed in the former Horatio May Community Elementary Academy building. May was one of four schools in Austin to close.
“The new ‘School Quality Ranking Policy,’ or SQRP, is a more thoughtful and thorough accounting system that relies on several factors and provides a common measuring stick for schools across the district,” Huffman said.
The SQRP was created with input from the Chicago Teachers Union, the Chicago Principals and Administrators Association, community groups and the University of Chicago Consortium on Chicago School Research, according to the CPS spokeswoman.
However, not everyone is convinced the new ranking system fairly evaluates a school’s performance.
“I think, certainly as a parent and a community member, I would put very little stock in the value of these ratings,” said Cassandra Creswell, a board member of the group Raise Your Hand and organizer with More Than A Score, groups that monitor how well CPS tests for and reports progress in its schools.
Factors that a school has very little control over, such as attendance, can bring a school’s performance level down, Creswell said.
Those factors can be linked to a school’s socio-economic makeup of the student population, rather than as an indicator of how well a school is actually performing, Creswell said.
“A lot of these things are just measuring the properties of a school’s demographics and not really telling you how well a school is doing,” she said.
Adding more doubt to the reliability of the CPS evaluations are reports that test scores were altered for some charter schools. This resulted in a increased evaluation for seven charter schools and a decrease for nine others, according to a Sun Times report.
Plato Learning Academy – which has two locations in Austin – received a higher ranking – Level 2 instead of Level 3 – than if its scores were calculated under the old model, which measures test scores from spring to spring.
Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School was also reevaluated using the new model, but its score – Level 1 – was not affected.
So what information should parents and guardians of school children use to determine which school is the best fit for a student? Creswell recommends disregarding the CPS reports in favor of personally checking out a school and seeing what it has to offer.
She also recommends visiting the school, talking to families who have children there, and meeting with the school’s faculty and staff to figure out what a school’s culture is and if it would be a good fit for your child.
“I think that’s kind of the thing you really want to look at, and the school quality rating number is going to tell you pretty much zero about that.”
Here’s how Austin schools stacked up:
(This year’s ranking is listed first, and last year’s is in parenthesis)
Austin Business and Entrepreneurship, 231 N. Pine Ave. Level 2 (3)
Austin Polytech, 231 N. Pine Ave. Level 3 (3)
Banner Academy West HS, 819 N. Leamington Ave. Level 2 (No Data)
Brunson, 932 N. Central Ave. Level 2 (3)
Catalyst Circle Rock Charter School, 5608 W. Washington Blvd. Level 1 (3)
Clark Academic Prep, 5101 W. Harrison St. Level 2 (3)
Clark, G.R., 1045 S. Monitor Ave. Level 1 (1)
Depriest, 139 S. Parkside Ave. Level 3 (No Data)
Douglass, 243 N. Parkside Ave. Level 3 (3)
Ellington, 243 N. Parkside Ave. Level 1 (1)
Hay, 1018 N. Laramie Ave. Level 2 (3)
Howe, 720 N. Lorel Ave. Level 2 (2)
KIPP, 4837 W. Erie St. Level 1+ (No Data)
Leland, 512 S. Lavergne Ave. Level 1 (1)
Lewis, 1431 N. Leamington Ave. Level 2 (3)
Lovett, 6333 W. Bloomingdale Ave. Level 2+ (2)
McNair, 4820 W. Walton St. Level 3 (3)
Nash, 4837 W. Erie St. Level 1 (2)
Plato, 5545 W. Harrison St. Level 2 (3)
Sayre, 1850 N. Newland Ave. Level 1 (1)
Spencer, 214 N. Lavergne Ave. Level 1 (3)
V.O.I.S.E., 231 N. Pine Ave. Level 2 (3)
YCCS Chtr-Austin Career, 5352 W. Chicago Ave. Level 1+ (No Data)
YCCS Chtr-Community Service, 4651 W. Madison St. Level 1+ (No Data)
YCCS Chtr-Westside Holistic, 4909 W. Division St. Level 1 (No Data)
Young, E.F., 1434 N. Parkside Ave. Level 2+ (3)
A complete listing of all Chicago Public Schools can be found at cps.edu.