Parents Win Victory in Chicago

K-12 Testing

Utilizing a complaint to the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR), parents have won a significant victory over the Chicago Public School’s (CPS) test-based grade promotion policy. Under the old policy, students who did not reach a cut-off score on the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) were required to attend summer school and were retained in grade if they failed a retest. Since 1996, CPS has raised the cut-off score several times.


Under the new policy, grades, attendance and teacher recommendations can outweigh the test scores. Additionally, the district must establish a uniform policy for timely reviews of non- promotion decisions, issue a clearly-written parent manual for requesting a review, and allow consideration of “any other evidence of acceptable reading and math skills and knowledge” in the review.


Parents United for Responsible Education (PURE) filed the OCR complaint in October 1999. They charged that requiring students to meet a mandatory test cutoff score was racially discriminatory because far more African American and Latino students failed the test than did white students (see Examiner, Winter 1999-2000). OCR found enough evidence to begin an investigation which ultimately led to significant changes in the policy.


PURE described the victory as a “precedent-setting outcome for the entire nation.” Previous complaints to OCR over high-stakes testing, in Ohio for example, have failed to produce significant policy changes (see Examiner, Fall 1994). The Chicago decision may signal a change in OCR, which is issuing a “resource guide” on high stakes testing (see Examiner, Winter 1999- 2000). The Chicago decision could benefit parents in other states who have filed complaints.


Under the new policy, all 3rd, 6th, and 8th grade students scoring below the CPS-established cut- off for “acceptable” Iowa grade-equivalent scores of 2.4, 5.2, and 7.2 respectively must attend summer school and be retested. If they do not pass the retest, they may still be promoted if their overall school record or a parent-requested review of their progress shows that the student has the knowledge and skills to go on to the next grade.


Concerns remain, however. More than one-third of U.S. eighth-grade students fall below the grade-equivalent cutoff score of 7.2 on the ITBS. The cutoff scores in other grades have similar impacts. Since many students will not pass the test even on retesting, parents are likely to have to battle the district over what constitutes evidence of “acceptable reading and math skills and knowledge. ” Another new feature of the promotion policy is the use of “monitors,” who are to assure that the assignment of student grades “is consistent with District Policy.” If this means alignment with ITBS scores, then grades will cease to be an independent measure of student achievement.


Most importantly, CPS continues to rely on retention, which is a failed and harmful policy (see story, p. ). Switching from a test-score only policy to a mix of test scores and other information will not solve that problem.


-- PURE, 407 S. Dearborn, No. 515, Chicago, IL 60605; 312/461-1994;