Chicago Public Schools students boost standardized test scores.

With school districts across the country still grappling with learning loss due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chicago Public Schools announced Thursday that students in grades 3-8 appear to have performed better on English Language proficiency tests, on average, than they did in 2018-19, the last full school year before the pandemic disrupted in-person learning.

CPS’ analysis is based on preliminary results from the Illinois Assessment of Readiness – a state-wide standardized test in math and English Language Arts, or literacy skills, administered in grades 3-8 every spring.

IAR scores fall into five categories. Level 1 means a student’s score did not meet the state’s expectations, and Level 5 means a student exceeded the testing targets set by the Illinois State Board of Education. The state board considers scores that meet or exceed standards to demonstrate readiness for the next grade, often referred to as proficiency.

According to the district: Preliminary 2024 IAR results show that compared to last year, the district-wide proficiency rate rose by 5% in English Language Arts and 2% in math.

That translates to an average proficiency rate of approximately 31% in literacy skills and 19% in math this year.

Pre-pandemic, the average English Language Arts score was 28% and the average math score was 24%, in the 2018-2019 school year.

ISBE will release final school-level 2024 scores in the fall – when federal emergency relief funds that the district credits with helping to produce students’ gains will expire.

With a resulting deficit of at least $391 million next school year, district dollars are spread thin as CPS finalizes its 2024-25 budget while grappling with aging infrastructure and bargaining a new contract with the Chicago Teachers Union.

The district has vowed to keep budget cuts from classrooms.

In a statement Tuesday on the delayed release and vote to approve the budget until July, CPS said it will “continue to support strong academic progress.”

In the meanwhile, the district and CTU will hold the first in a series of public bargaining sessions Friday, with CTU expected to present the union’s demands for “Green Schools.” Research shows that poor environmental conditions in schools adversely impact student performance, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

In a press release Thursday, CPS CEO Pedro Martinez said that while the preliminary IAR results represent only one of many indicators of student success, “It’s very satisfying to see yet another sign that our investments in the classroom are yielding positive results and that students are moving in the right direction.”

Student readiness and school quality cannot be assessed solely on standardized test scores, experts have noted. “They are highly predictive of future test scores, but standardized test scores only partially measure the skills students need to succeed in later years of schooling or careers, and are very imprecise indicators of how students will perform in the future,” Elaine Allensworth, director of the UChicago Consortium on School Research told the Tribune upon the release of final IAR 2023 scores last fall.

Among investments underlying the gains seen in CPS students’ IAR scores in back-to-back years, the district touted spending on “strong core instruction,” including intensive tutoring; interventionists dedicated to helping struggling students; and coaches for teachers. CPS also highlighted its investments in providing students with social-emotional support services and “holistic” offerings, including in the arts and athletics, that can create a more joyful school experience.

“The District is continuing many of those investments in School Year 2025 while continuing to advocate for greater and more steady sources of funding amid years of historic disinvestment in the city’s South and West Side neighborhoods and years of inequitable public education funding,” CPS said in its press release. The district “proudly serves a student population that is more likely than their peers statewide to face daily challenges, including poverty, high mobility, and insecure housing,” CPS added.

Black students drove this year’s expected literacy gains, with a 6% increase in scores between the preliminary 2024 results and scores last year, CPS noted. Latino students’ English Language Arts scores grew by 3% in the same timeframe, according to CPS.

Last year, final 2023 IAR data showed stark disparities among marginalized groups:

While 43% of students who were not economically disadvantaged met or exceeded math standards, only 11% of economically disadvantaged students scored similarly.

About 20% of non-English learners met or exceeded math standards; among English learners, the rate was 6% to 7%.

Fewer than 4% of students with Individualized Education Plans met or exceeded math standards; the rate was 20% for students without IEPs.

Similar or greater gaps existed in literacy scores among students who were economically disadvantaged, English learners or had IEPs.

Students will succeed “when given access to strong Districtwide resources and supports,” Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova said of the preliminary 2024 IAR results in CPS’ release.

The district analysis of the IAR data follows the release of a study by Harvard University’s Center for Education Policy Research and the Educational Opportunity Project at Stanford University, which ranked CPS first among 40 large urban districts in gains in 3-8 grade students’ reading scores on state standardized tests, from 2019-2023. The Education Recovery Scorecard also ranked CPS 13th among 43 large urban districts for gains made in math.

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