Chicago fails to close achievement gaps

After 16 years of school reform, Chicago’s “racial gaps in achievement have steadily increased,” according to a study by the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.  White and Asian students are making more progress than Latinos; blacks are “falling behind all other groups.”

Some initiatives, such as closing underperforming schools, may have hurt students, Jean-Claude Brizard, the new superintendent, told the Chicago Tribune.

If school closings destabilized certain neighborhoods, other efforts were ineffective — millions of dollars pumped into countless after-school initiatives and tutoring and mentoring programs geared toward African-American students, only to see math and reading scores languish and many students fall further behind.

The percentage of black students meeting benchmarks on the Illinois Standards Achievement Test has grown at a faster rate than whites’ progress. But the consortium looked at average scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.  “NAEP scores don’t just look at a percentage of students that pass a certain cut of points. It talks about the average scores, so it’s a much better way to look at trends over time,” (researcher Marisa) de la Torre said.

Over the last 20 years, graduation rates in Chicago have improved dramatically, the study found. Math scores improved slightly in elementary and middle schools while reading scores “have remained fairly flat for two decades.”

NCLB stands for No Chance for Latinos and Blacks, writes Coach G, who began teacher inner-city Chicago students in 1993. Even in the pre-reform era, two years before Mayor Richard Daley took control of the city’s schools, there was pressure to raise reading and math scores, Coach G recalls.

No Child Left Behind increased pressure to replace “rich curriculum with test prep,” he writes. Schools cut back on teaching writing: In many schools, the three Rs were reduced to two.  Other responses:

  • providing tutoring and other individualized services for on-the-bubble students who were just short of a proficient score the previous year, while neglecting the most deficient and most advanced students
  • preventing students from taking advanced classes if the content wouldn’t be on the test
  • enabling students’ self-defeating behavior
  • holding teachers accountable for results without providing them the support they need to achieve those results

Years ago, a testing guru told me the most effective way to raise students test scores is to teach writing. It even works for math scores, he said. Filling in bubbles? A waste of time after the first five minutes, he said.


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