PULLMAN — The number of Chicago elementary students meeting state grade standards dropped this year, but Chicago Public Schools officials noted it's from the state's new way of tabulating results — and said the scores actually reflect progress.
In fact, Mayor Rahm Emanuel cheered the test scores and credited the longer school day he brought to the district.
"Today, our test scores came out for elementary schools, and again everything's going up," Emanuel said at a news conference Tuesday in Pullman. "We have more work to do, but these are indicators of where progress is being made."
CPS released data from the 2013 Illinois State Achievement Test. When compared to last year's numbers — adjusted to the changing way of scoring students — this year's results showed a modest 1.8 percent increase in students who meet or exceed state standards for their grade level.
Gains were made in third through eighth grades in math, reading and science. The gains were among boys and girls and among African-American students and Hispanics. According to CPS, 65 percent of its elementary schools increased their test scores, and overall 52.5 percent of students met or exceeded state grade standards.
Emanuel, however, did not get into the fine print of how the Illinois State Board of Education actually raised performance levels this year as it prepares to replace the ISAT with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams in the 2014-15 school year.
Because of the new state standards, CPS students who meet or exceed grade standards actually dropped to 52.5 percent from 74.2 percent last year. Yet, according to Emanuel and CPS data, if students had been measured by the same standards last year, then 50.7 percent would have qualified, meaning this year CPS could still claim an objective increase.
"The continued progress being made on the part of our students is encouraging, but there is more work to be done," said CPS Chief Executive Officer Barbara Byrd-Bennett in a statement. "The district, our school communities, elected officials and business leaders all share a responsibility to do everything possible to protect the investments made to support student growth and ensure our children can live up to their potential.
"Our school community faced a number of changes and challenges this past school year, including the strike, a lengthy community process around our utilization crisis and the implementation of both the full school day and Common Core curriculum, and our educators and school leaders deserve tremendous thanks for their commitment and dedication to their students and their learning during this time," she added.
"The longer school day is cumulative," Emanuel said, "and the greatest growth was shown in schools that started the longer day two years out." According to CPS, those 11 so-called pioneer schools saw three times the increase of all other schools on average, although CPS did admit those scores are "now just shy of of the district's overall average ISAT score."
Emanuel said that, combined with this spring's data showing the district's graduation rate at a record high, it proves CPS is "pointed in the right direction."
Emanuel declined to comment on the two federal lawsuits against CPS closings being argued this week, calling it "inappropriate."
"What goes on in the court, I don't want to comment on, because it's in court," Emanuel said. "But we're going to do what we need to do to make sure we're ready as a system and reflective of the commitment we've made to parents." Emanuel said he and CPS were already focused on the next school year starting Aug. 26.