HYDE PARK — Grades and attendance are much bigger indicators of success in high school and college than test scores, a new University of Chicago report says.
In a report released Thursday, the U. of C.'s Consortium on Chicago School Research said it tracked 20,000 Chicago Public Schools students in fifth through eighth grades and found that standardized test scores don’t add much to the picture of a student if the student’s attendance rate and grade point average are already known.
"Test scores are very good at predicting future test scores, but not as strongly predictive of other outcomes we care about, like whether students will struggle or succeed in high school coursework or graduate from college," said consortium director Elaine Allensworth, the report's lead author.
Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett said the report backs up many efforts by CPS to improve attendance rates. But she defended the use of test scores.
"Standardized tests both help inform classroom instruction and gauge student achievement, while also providing students, teachers and schools with a universal measure of performance,” Byrd-Bennett said.
But critics said the report calls into question the district’s use of test scores in determining which students get to go to a selective-enrollment high school. In the current system, student scores on so-called MAP tests as well as on an entrance exam account for two-thirds of the criteria used to determine who gets into the highly coveted schools. Grades account for one-third.
“This is kind of a bombshell,” said Cassie Creswell, an organizer for More Than a Score, which advocates for fewer high-stakes tests in schools. “It says that it’s crazy that we’re sorting kids by test scores — that’s a big deal.”
The report says that a student's grade point average in eighth grade is more than twice as likely as test scores to predict which students will earn A's and B's in ninth grade.
The report also says that eighth-grade GPA and attendance information alone can help identify 44 percent of students that will be off track by the end of ninth grade. That's actually good news, the report indicates, because it shows students can still turn things around and succeed.
"Students’ middle school grades are a crucial point of intervention," researchers said.
The report says trying to improve attendance is a better strategy than targeting test scores, which tend not to move much.
Attendance "is much more predictive of passing high school classes and getting high grades in high school than test scores," the researchers said. "As a result, high school outcomes are higher for students who improve their attendance during the middle grade years than for students who improve their test scores."
Still, the report said that sometimes students do well in middle grades "only to see their grades and attendance drop dramatically in ninth grade, putting them at risk of not graduating or not being ready for college," researchers said.
In those cases, a student's high school experience is the key difference, and it "highlights the need for monitoring students’ academic performance closely during the ninth grade year, to make sure they are performing up to their potential."
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