Dixon Elementary motivational PostIts regarding school performance ratings

Fired Up About School Performance Ratings? Take This CPS Survey

This week Chicago Unheard has focused in on equity and opportunity in Chicago Public Schools. Today is your chance to take some action and urge the district to move in the direction of opportunity and equity when it comes to school performance ratings.

One way the district tries to help parents get a feel for the quality of schools and the opportunities they offer is through school performance ratings. Back in June, the board of education approved changes to the policy that determines how schools are rated, and also made it clear that the rating system needs a more thorough overhaul.

The current ratings system heavily weights both growth on tests (NWEA) and absolute achievement, or attainment. While I support knowing how our kids are doing as measured by standardized assessments, I also agree with NWEA’s own 2013 statement: “While student performance is part of the measure of classroom success, it should not be the determining or predominant factor.” There are many more factors that also offer important information about whether a classroom or a school is a place I want my kid. Right now, many of those factors are not included in the school performance ratings policy.

Time to Take Some Pressure Off Attendance

Also, among parents, there’s a lot of pushback around the use of attendance as a measure of school performance. I’m the mom of a child who gets sick a lot. At some schools she has attended, we’ve definitely felt pressure around attendance and I have met administrators who came awfully close to saying “send your kid if she’s sick but not that sick.” Sorry, not happening.

Of course I have sent her to school sometimes when she had a mild headache or stomach issue–I’m a working mom–but when she’s really not feeling well, even if there’s no obvious symptom like fever or vomiting, I will keep her home. I’m sure I’m not the only CPS parent who has experienced pressure from school to do otherwise. It’s wrong, and it won’t end until the pressure from above comes off attendance at least a little bit. Of course I don’t want to go back to the bad old days when high schools could forget absent kids ever existed and just drop them off the rolls, but the pendulum has swung too far the other way.

Let’s Rate Schools on Climate and Arts Offerings As Well As Student Performance

The number one measure CPS currently uses that I hope they keep is the 5Essentials survey. No measure is perfect and surveys can be inflated, whether out of genuine but misguided enthusiasm or because staff worry that their jobs could be on the line if a school’s rating slips Nevertheless, the 5essentials is the best measure we have to get a feel for school climate. And it includes student voice from 6th-graders and up.

We have other measures that are visible to parents but don’t directly affect a school’s rating: the Creative Schools Certifcation, Healthy Schools Certification and Supportive Schools certification. These measures tell us the opportunities for children to experience arts instruction, eat well and move around, and rely on social and emotional support. While I don’t know if these existing rating systems are the best way to measure these elements of a school, nor what would happen if they became part of a more formal accountability rating, they certainly get at aspects of a school that I think are important and should factor into how we look at school quality.

But the question for you, dear readers, is: what do you think? What’s working and not working in the school performance ratings system? To let CPS know your thoughts, take this survey and let them know what you think should be kept or changed in how the district rates its schools.

If you really want to get involved, join me at Englewood STEM High School Monday night at 5:30 for the Board of Education’s Whole Child Committee meeting, which will focus on SQRP. You can register to attend here.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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