Turnaround schools show improved ISAT scores

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • October 31, 2008 @ 8:00 AM

Chicago has almost 500 public and charter elementary schools, and the Harvard School for Excellence’s test scores usually have ranked among the city’s worst.

However, officials at the South Side school are encouraged by the 2008 Illinois Standard Achievement Test scores released today.

Forty percent of Harvard’s students met or exceeded state standards in the tests administered last spring, according to Illinois Board of Education data. That's an increase of 8.2 percent from 2007.

The results are signifcant because Harvard is in the second year of a district-mandated turnaround process that involved replacing nearly the entire staff and outsourcing management of the school.

CPS plans such turnarounds at several more schools in coming years, and educators and parents were anxiously waiting to see how the process would affect test scores at Harvard and other schools.

News was also good at Sherman School of Excellence,a turnaround school where 40 percent of students met or exceeded standards. That's up 5.6 percent from last year and 11 percent over two years.

“Those steady gains over multiple schools are moving us in the right direction to close the achievement gap,” Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams says.

However, Harvard still posted the 10th-worst scores in the city. Sherman ranked 11th-worst, illustrating how much work remains to be done at turnaround schools. Neither school met academic progress requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

As a district, Chicago Public Schools saw an average increase in scores for the seventh consecutive year. Overall, 65.4 percent of the city‘s grade 3-8 students met or exceeded state standards, an increase of 1.3 percent from 2007, but still more than 10 percent behind the state average.

The city’s ISAT scores range from 25.3 percent passing at Schiller Elementary, 640 W. Scott, to a 100 percent passing score at Lenart Elementary Regional Gifted Center, 8101 S. LaSalle.

All of the students at Keller Elementary Gifted Magnet School, 3020 W. 108th St., passed too.

Another 18 elementary schools posted scores in the nineties.

Cowling and a new staff arrived at Harvard in spring 2007 after the school was approved by the Chicago Board of Education as the city’s second turnaround school. At that time, just 27.5 percent of Harvard’s students met state standards.

This year, the school saw Grade 7 math scores triple, and more than 58 percent of students passed in that area.

Cowling attributes the school’s early improvements to a “combination of teachers and parents.”

He also notes that teachers drill students on math every day.

At Sherman, a big change came in fifth-grade math scores. Nearly two-thirds of students met state standards -- a jump of 20 percent.

“It’s fantastic,“ says Rickey Fields, chair of Sherman's Local School Council.

Another school with big gains was Dumas Elementary, 6650 S. Ellis. Three years ago, 24.1 percent of Dumas’ students met state standards.

This year, 37.5 percent did.

“We’re working on changing our curriculum across the board,“ says Mary Dorsey, assistant principal.

At Schiller, which posted the worst scores, 88 percent of the school’s third-graders flunked the reading test, and 75 percent failed the math portion. In two years, Schiller’s composite score has fallen more than 26 percent.

At Bethune Elementary, 3030 W. Arthington, 85 percent of the school’s third graders did not meet state standards in reading and 81 percent in math. However, those numbers rose through the grades. Sixty percent of the eighth-graders at Bethune passed the reading test, far above the levels posted by either Sherman or Harvard.

The ISAT results clearly show a disparity still exists among the city’s poorest neighborhoods. The bottom four schools -- Schiller, Dulles, Bethune and Kershaw -- are attended solely by black students, and nearly all of them are poor. The best of them, Kershaw, had a composite average of 37.2 percent.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.