Chicago Public Schools reschedules High School Admissions Test

Several students write at desks in a classroom while a teacher walks by.
Students write at their desk. Chicago Public Schools announced a new schedule for the High School Admissions Test after canceling the exam last week due to technical problems. (Getty Images)

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Chicago Public Schools announced a new testing schedule Wednesday for the High School Admissions Test, which was canceled last week after technical problems. 

District students will take the test next week, on either Oct. 24 or Oct. 25. The district will assign one of those dates to each eighth grader’s school, according to a CPS letter to families. Students taking the exam in Spanish, Arabic, Polish, Urdu, or simplified Chinese will test on Nov. 1. 

Non-CPS students — whose testing window last weekend was canceled — can take the exam on Oct. 28, Oct. 29, or Nov. 5 at Lane Tech or Lindblom high schools, the district said. These students must sign up for an exam date in GoCPS, the city’s admissions application system, by 9 a.m. Oct. 23. 

The exam will not be the same one as was planned for last week, and students who were able to access the test will not see the same questions, officials said. 

Students who were able to complete the exam will be allowed to retake the test, and their new score will be used for admissions even if it’s the lower of both tests, officials said. Students who don’t want to retake the exam must opt out by filing out this form and returning it to their school by Oct. 23. However, due to last week’s glitches, district officials “strongly recommend that students take advantage of this opportunity” to retake the exam, they said in the letter to families. 

CPS’ roughly 24,000 eighth graders were set to take the HSAT in school on Oct. 11. The exam is part of admissions requirements for selective enrollment high schools and for enrollment at some schools outside of their neighborhood boundaries. 

But on test day, a technical problem broke out with the testing vendor, Riverside Associates, LLC, officials said. The company later discovered that backlogged servers caused the problem, according to an FAQ on the district’s website. Students were unable to log into the testing platform, and the company’s help desk could not be reached, educators told Chalkbeat. District officials instructed principals to stop exam administration for students who were unable to log in. 

The district later canceled the exam for non-CPS students, who were scheduled to take it Oct. 14 and 15. 

The company fixed the problem by “adding server capacity” and testing the system to ensure that it works, the FAQ said.

Students’ HSAT scores help determine which selective high schools they might be admitted. This year, students must submit their top choices in the district’s admissions system — GoCPS — by Nov. 9, a month earlier than usual. Students were originally allowed to re-rank their choices by Nov. 22, but given the rescheduled HSAT, district officials have extended the re-rank deadline to Dec. 1.

After last week’s glitches, the district plans to be “very cautious” about the new testing plan and is “putting some strategies in place” to eliminate potential issues, said CPS Chief Education Officer Bogdana Chkoumbova during a Wednesday Board of Education meeting to review the agenda for an upcoming full board meeting. Neither she nor district officials immediately elaborated on what extra steps they’ve taken to ensure the test will resume smoothly. 

In the online FAQ, the district said that its team has “reviewed results of vendor testing to confirm preparedness for resuming the HS Admissions Test program.”

During the board meeting Wednesday, Chkoumbova apologized to families for the glitches and said she was “a little bit disappointed” by the problems, given that the district’s aim was to reduce anxiety for students. The district had shortened the test length this year to an hour, from a previous 2 ½ hours, and had offered it for the first time in Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu, and Polish.

“Our team went into the testing session with a lot of assurances,” Chkoumbova said. “We did triple check everything, but the platform failed.” 

Reema Amin is a reporter covering Chicago Public Schools. Contact Reema at ramin@chalkbeat.org.

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