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Record CPS Test Scores Show Students 'Earned' More State Funding, Rahm Says

By Alex Nitkin | August 10, 2017 2:12pm
 Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the test score growth at Mary Lyon Public School on Thursday.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced the test score growth at Mary Lyon Public School on Thursday.
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DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin

BELMONT CRAGIN — More than 60 percent of CPS students outperformed the national average last year on a standardized reading test, setting a new record for the city, Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Thursday.

Emanuel dropped into summer classes at Mary Lyon Public School, 2941 N. McVicker Ave., to tout the scores before a crowd of students and teachers.

District administrators are "consistently seeing academic gains at every level," regardless of students' backgrounds, the mayor told the group.

Flanked by CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, Emanuel stood before an upward-sloping line on a graph showing scores on the NWEA MAP test, which district officials use to measure student growth and grade teachers.

About 61 percent of CPS students beat the national average on the reading portion of the test — up from 50.5 percent in 2014, the last time the test underwent a major change, officials said.

Emanuel's office also pointed to nine schools around the city where more than 95 percent of students met or exceeded the national average on reading and math scores. They included two neighborhood high schools: Taft High School in Norwood Park and Kenwood Academy High School on the city's South Side.

Reading scores on the NWEA MAP test have steadily climbed since 2013, officials said. [DNAinfo/Alex Nitkin]

About 8 million students take the MAP test every year in more than 7,800 schools across the country, officials said.

Emanuel paid specific praise to Lyon, whose scores registered a sharp jump compared to last year, he said.

"When you put in a combination of a principal who's not scared of being held accountable, teachers that motivate our students and parents who stay involved, children regardless of background will succeed," Emanuel said. "This data exactly shows that."

The announcement came amid nagging uncertainty around how much money the district can expect this year from Springfield, where legislators are still trying to push a years-in-the-making overhaul of the state's school funding formula past the finish line and into state law.

Earlier this month, Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed a bill that would have thrown a $215 million life raft to the city's teacher pension fund in exchange for cutting some special grants the district receives every year. Rauner called the bill a "bailout" of a mismanaged pension system.

But Emanuel said on Thursday that the cash infusion would bring equity to a state whose current funding formula rewards wealthier schools while punishing poorer ones.

The steady growth in students' test scores "show[s] that they've earned the funding to be treated as equal citizens in the state of Illinois," the mayor said.

"Children in Chicago ... should not be penalized by the state because they're poor," Emanuel continues. "They should be lifted up and honored because of the academic accomplishments they have achieved."

Emanuel vowed that schools will open on Sept. 5 no matter what happens in Springfield, but he did not say where the district would find the money to keep schools running in the absence of state aid.

But even under the current system, Lyon has seen "a large amount of growth" among its students, of whom more than 92 percent qualify for financial assistance, according to assistant principal Lupe Perez.

And despite the citywide volley of layoffs and budget cuts driven by a 7,500-plus drop in enrollment across the city, Lyon saw a more than 5 percent boost to its budget this year, according to CPS data.

The K-8 elementary school is expected to see its enrollment hold steady around 1,500 students this year, protecting its pool of funding for after school programs and "targeted intervention," Perez said.

"We've been able to maintain some very good scores, so the programs we've implemented will be able to continue," he said. "I believe that success encourages more families to move into the neighborhood.