Chicago Does Away With Educational Standards: Failing Students Pushed Along, Comparative Testing Abolished

April 19, 2021

The CTU has hijacked education and CPS has allowed it to happen

By lunchtime on Thursday, April 15, parents of children attending Chicago Public Schools (CPS) received an e-mail indicating several significant changes to how the district will handle assessments, high school admissions, grade promotion and school ratings. Not more than an hour later, the Chicago Tribune reported CTU and CPS had reached an agreement for high school students to return to a partial in-person resumption of classes. The timing of the CPS notification and subsequent significant policy changes and the announcement of the successful conclusion of negotiations between CPS and CTU to bring teenagers back to the classroom seems curious. 

Aside from apparent timing coincidences, parents should beware that these new CPS policies will further handicap Chicago public school students from competing on the state and national stage, further cheating local communities especially minority ones — of any chance of a decent education. 

Even with an “F” in math and reading, students will now be able to advance to the next grade 

The changes do away with the ability to measure students — individually and as units (e.g., a grade within a school to compare that student to others). The first change focuses on promotion policy in a manner that will now “advance all elementary students to the next grade level in the fall. Similar to SY20, students with final failing grades in reading or math would be recommended to attend summer school” but can otherwise still advance. 

Next to nobody thinks it’s “okay” to promote students who have failed to master basic reading and math skills. Moreover, by the time schools, families and kids themselves realize the significance of the lost learning based on requiring basic reading and math skills to advance, it will be too late. The irony should not be lost on social justice warriors: How can CPS justify, or rather rationalize, that this policy advances societal equity?

MAP testing: RIP 

The second change applies to the elimination of standardized MAP testing for this year, next year and in many cases, last year. Now these same families whose kids have progressed by grade without merit will have even less of a sense of how far behind their child actually is. To remove the one standardized test that benchmarks student performance, without naming a replacement strategy, means the district itself can not measure as effectively the amount and degree of learning loss. Again, next to nobody thinks learning loss has not occurred.

Perhaps more critically, the ability to conduct comparative analysis district by district now goes by the wayside. Consider this -- how will parents know how far behind a Chicago public school education is compared to say a suburban district or another city altogether? By eliminating comparative standardized testing, the district has jettisoned all outside objective measures of performance. 

Making Select Enrollment less selective 

The third significant change announced by CPS involves the jettisoning of the spring seventh grade NWEA MAP testing for students who want to attend a select enrollment high school such as Payton, Jones, Taft, Lane, or one of the 100 choice programs which includes IB, STEM, Arts, according to the e-mail. Currently, the "MAP test" combined with the Selective Enrollment High School exam along with grades, form the basis of selecting students to attend many of these schools. 

Specifically, CPS suggested that the MAP scores in particular establish eligibility. Students have to meet certain thresholds to apply to said schools and provide selection criteria, meaning kids that scored better receive placements at these schools over others that didn’t score as well.

The district already takes equity and fairness into account through its 4-tier zip code point structure program. All kids can “rank” into the best schools and then the bulk of students apply against the point requirements for their particular tier. Last year, as an example, a child living in a Tier 4 zip code like Lakeview, Lincoln Park or Gold Coast, needed to score an 862 out of 900 points to gain admittance to Lane Tech whereas a child living in a Tier 1 zip code only needed to score 747.

With the requirement to attend one of these elite schools on the basis of straight "A’s" in 7th grade and an easy Select Enrollment High school exam, how will the district manage the onslaught of students that will easily perform well on both? The MAP test at least, made the process more competitive and challenging. But more competition sounds too close to the subject of merit, and that concept has gone completely out of vogue! Students, however, might welcome the removal of the test requirement as many already feel the stress and anxiety of taking the MAP test. 

Who needs equity if you can hide the numbers? 

In addition, it isn’t equitable since families residing in wealthier zip codes have access to tutors that other families can not access. A cynical view suggests that dropping these tests will somehow boost scores next year and hide the actual learning loss incurred since the spring of 2020. With more spots going to kids with Individualized Education Programs anyway, as previously announced by CPS that it was increasing the number of spots to 15% from 10%, the district can keep scores buoyed, albeit artificially, which will have the effect of allowing families to think these select enrollment and choice programs are indeed more “selective” than they actually are for the standard admissions pool.

Let’s return to the curious timing of the note from CPS followed by an announced agreement that students would return to high school after more than a year of distance learning. One can’t help but wonder if the issue of standardized tests came up as a negotiation point between CPS and CTU. After all, CTU has a published paper opposing standardized testing for a number of reasons that they claim minimize quality student-teacher interactions and don’t actually help black and brown communities become better prepared for college.

Teachers have long resisted measures that add, in particular, “private sector” accountability practices to the process of job performance evaluations. Certainly without standardized testing, teachers will have little by the way of accountability, let alone results, to concern themselves with. 

In addition, with the recent signing of legislation empowering the teachers’ union even further, Governor J.B. Pritzker has given the green light to CTU to negotiate over the length of the school day as well as the length of the entire school year.

State law already allows unions to negotiate over class sizes, outsourcing and non-teaching positions. The class size argument may become mute if CPS can’t fire teachers as enrollment numbers continue to decline. Surely, nobody thinks enrollment numbers will grow next year. By watering down standards, removing standardized testing requirements and promoting undeserving students to the next grade level, more and more families will opt for private and parochial schools, not to mention the continuing ongoing flight to the suburbs. 

Most parents interviewed by the Chicago Contrarian, including many who identify as “liberal or progressive Democrats” anecdotally hold extremely negative views of the CTU. Yet, CPS continues to paint itself into a negotiating corner, cowering at and capitulating to union requests. 

CTU Über alles 

As actual learning has faltered, and the CTU has gained the upper hand in negotiations, now supported by a new law, parents suggest that CPS must expand its range of negotiating tactics and strategies. Indeed, a number of options could help increase its leverage such as opting to split itself from the monolithic one-size-fits-all bureaucracy to, at a minimum, four separate districts to allow for greater autonomy and experimentation and knowledge sharing. 

In addition, from a union negotiation perspective, CPS would do well by creating lock-out scenarios either physically or virtually and withhold pay for unreasonable demands. The district could also issue vouchers for parents to select charter schools not currently under the control of CTU. Perhaps vouchers can be used to send kids to other alternative schools as well. 

CPS should also form a partnership with a strong formal distance learning education company. Many of the subjects at certain levels can be taught virtually without the help of a teacher. This type of partnership and capability will give CPS a BATNA — a best alternative to a negotiated agreement — with the union and likely skirt the “outsourcing” prohibition of current state law. The other obvious strategy would be to insist on attrition clauses in union contracts. As enrollment numbers drop, the city can not bring on as many teachers and can certainly furlough and opt out of hiring as many and perhaps even reduce headcount. 

In the meantime, for administrators running parochial and private high schools, CPS has given those schools a golden opportunity to “sell” the value of in-person learning, defined as five days per week, regular standardized testing and merit-based grade promotion.

It’s no wonder that the city’s Catholic schools appear poised for a great resurgence as insiders have told Chicago Contrarian that 30 boys recently left CPS to attend Mount Carmel. Parents at other Catholic schools in the city report record numbers of transfers and spot acceptances for the 2021-2022 school year.  

Until CPS builds its negotiation position, the CTU will continue to advocate only for itself, and certainly not for the students who have become collateral damage in Chicago’s public education system. It too could end up looking like the city’s criminal justice system: hollowed out, ineffective and with the key metrics all pointed in the wrong direction, except union pay and work, or should we say “non-work”, requirements.

Related Posts