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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

How effective is your school?

Chicago Public School students start out behind but nearly catch up to the national average by eighth grade. Photo: Lyndon French/New York Times

Three-quarters of Chicago Public School students come from low-income families. As third graders, they test below the second-grade level in reading and math, on average. But they nearly catch up to the national average by eighth grade, gaining six grade levels in five years, according to a nationwide study by Stanford researchers.

That makes the much-maligned district one of the most effective in the country, reports the New York Times, which has some great interactive graphics.

It’s true that children in prosperous districts tend to test well, while children in poorer districts on average score lower. But in this analysis, which measures how scores grow as student cohorts move through school, the Stanford researcher Sean Reardon argues that it’s possible to separate some of the advantages of socioeconomics from what’s actually happening in schools.

Seattle also is a high-growth district, along with a number of Arizona and Tennessee districts.

Rochester, New York has the slowest growth among larger districts — 2.9 grade levels in five years — with Montgomery County, Alabama and Baltimore almost as bad. In East St. Louis, Illinois, a very poor district, students gain 1.8 years of learning in five years. Richmond, Virginia students gain 2.2 years.

Seattle students make nearly six years of progress in six years. Photo: Susie Fitzhugh/Image Works

That is: Chicago students are gaining at twice the rate of Rochester, Montgomery County and Baltimore kids and triple the rate in East St. Louis.

The Stanford data base includes nearly every school district in the nation. The Times lets you enter your school district to see the growth rate. Some high-performing, affluent districts are high growth. Some are not.

The Times story focuses on an improving Chicago school, Lavizzo Elementary, which is nearly all-black and all-poor. (The school must be improving from a very low base: Scores are very, very low.)

The school uses an International Baccalaureate curriculum. The students read the Junior Great Books. The school hosts a community farmer’s market. Outside groups lead choir classes and organized games at recess. . . . Across the district, data about attendance and grades is being used to identify the students likely to need extra attention. And the district has emphasized the role of more autonomous principals in improving instruction . . .

We need to understand a lot more about what’s happening in Chicago that’s not happening in so many other cities.

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