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Ray Elementary Barely Avoids Drop To 'Low Performance' Ranking

By Sam Cholke | November 14, 2013 10:23am
 Principal Antonia Hill said Ray Elementary barely avoided being put on academic probation by CPS.
Principal Antonia Hill said Ray Elementary barely avoided being put on academic probation by CPS.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

HYDE PARK — Ray Elementary School latest academic ranking was a hair’s breadth from being designated by the district as a low performing school, a designation that could take away some local control.

“A hundredth of a point and we would have become a level three school,” Principal Antonia Hill at a Wednesday presentation to parents on newly released performance data on the 5631 S. Kimbark Ave. school. 

Chicago Public Schools rank schools into three standings: level one, or excellent; level two, or good; and level three, which puts the school on probation.

Dropping from its current level two designation could mean that the central office might exert greater control over decisions at Ray.

“A decimal point saved us. Ray school should not be at a decimal point,” said Hill.

Ray barely met the minimum requirements to remain in the middle tier of public schools — a tenth of a percent lower and the school would have fallen in the rankings.

“If we drop again there are implications for our school,” Hill said. “CPS is now a different animal. The CPS that existed a couple years ago no longer exists and now numbers matter.”

According data presented by Hill, Ray students are not performing poorly in the classroom or on standardized tests, but are failing to make the year-to-year gains that CPS has set as a benchmark to maintain its status as a level two school.

Ray parents need to focus on getting their children to school on time to meet the 97 percent attendance rate goal CPS has set for the school, Hill said. The school has hovered around a 95 percent attendance rate all year and missing that goal could push the school down to a level three school, Hill said.

It is not yet clear what the implications would be for Ray next year as CPS continues to rework its ranking system, but under the current level system the CPS central office “it’s probably going to be a lot more challenging for those of us in this room,” aid Timothy May, vice chair of the local school council.

“I’m not sure how much input we would have at that point in our school,” May said.
Parents grilled the principal on the possible causes for a stagnation in test scores and the attendance rate.

“Right now, I really don’t have a definitive answer for what it is,” Hill said, adding that she will be putting more attention on individual classrooms in the coming weeks. “We need to focus in on instruction.”

Hill said she was unsure what funding for the school would be like next year and the school should focus on improving while funding cuts are relatively mild.

The school was allowed to keep some money that it expected CPS to cut and 51 percent of students qualified for free or reduced lunch, which increased state and federal funding, Hill said.

“That means the demographics of Ray are changing — this is very high,” Hill said.

She said the high number of low-income students meant the school was able to get $74,000 in state and federal funding this year it may not be able to secure next year.

Others at the meeting said that the school should not become defined by the CPS’ measures of success.

“I don’t like the idea that, because these are the numbers, they are important numbers,” said Don Willard, a member of the local school council. “There are some delusional ideas of what these numbers mean.”

Willard said CPS’ metrics don’t account for the changing socio-economics at the school. He said exams like the Illinois Standard Achievement Test and other state standardized tests were never designed to measure teacher competence or evaluate school quality and should not be taken too seriously as a measure of success.

Hill responded the school does not have much say in defining the standards of quality.

“This is what we’re being measured by,” Hill said. “These are the tools being used.”