First Person

Ask an Expert: My school is failing to make 'adequate yearly progress'

Q. I recently received a disturbing letter regarding my school. I love my neighborhood school, but the letter indicated it’s not meeting adequate yearly progress under NCLB and it said I could send my daughter to a higher performing school and that her transportation would be covered and she would be guaranteed placement. I don’t know how to make sense of this. I am leaning toward keeping my daughter at the school and staying involved as a parent, but it feels as if someone is giving up on us. What if many parents pull out their kids? What happens to the school then, or in the future? Should I reconsider my gut feeling to keep my daughter at this school? She has three years to go.

Many reasons to choose a school – beyond CSAP

First, do your research

You have asked a timely and important question that is also quite complex.  I am going to provide some short answers, and also direct you to the Colorado Department of Education where there are pages and pages of information about Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP):

Under No Child Left Behind (NCLB), schools have a target for all children to be proficient in reading and math as measured by CSAP (or soon to be TCAP) by spring 2014.  When NCLB was adopted, targets were set for each year leading up to 2014. For 2011, the target was near 95 percent for elementary schools in reading and writing with slightly lower percentages required for middle and high schools. So, in order for schools to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) they must have 95 percent of students earning partially proficient, proficient, or advanced on CSAP in reading and math.

Please note that for AYP, students earning “partially proficient” are counted as “proficient.”  There is also a requirement that 95 percent of students in CSAP testing areas be tested. In addition, there are some ways that schools can show significant improvement to achieve AYP without meeting the targets. But, most schools meeting AYP do so through having nearly 95 percent of students earning partially proficient, proficient, or advanced on CSAP in reading and math.

Many schools fail to meet AYP

In 2010, only 62 percent of schools achieved AYP.  Your daughter’s school is certainly not alone in not making AYP!  For Title I schools, those schools receiving additional funding due to higher percentages of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, there are significant implications of not meeting AYP.  The second consecutive year in which a Title I schools fails to meet AYP a letter must be sent to parents telling parents of this and allowing parents to transfer their child(ren) to another school in the district that is making AYP.  That is why you received the letter that you received.  It is required by NCLB that parents are notified if their school is not making AYP after the second year.

What happens in the third year or beyond of not making AYP

If the school fails to make AYP for a third year, they must provide supplemental services to students who are low-income and low-performing.  For instance, they may provide after-school tutoring at no cost to families.  After four and five years of not making AYP, schools may face corrective action and restructuring.  Corrective action may be something such as required additional professional development for the staff.  Restructuring may include such things as hiring a new principal or new staff members.

Not all families jump ship

In my experience, some families will decide to move their child after receiving this letter, but many will not.  For many families, the alternative provided by the district presents challenges.

Although transportation is provided to the other school, it is much harder for parents to be involved when the school is farther away from home.  My guess is that families who are very concerned about CSAP results likely have already moved their child out of the school or chose a different school from the beginning.  If you feel like your daughter is receiving a good education where she is, then I would suggest leaving her at the school.  There are so many other measures of success for a school.

Other reasons for open enrolling

Kathleen LutteneggerI open enroll my daughter into another elementary school in our district.  I think her school is absolutely wonderful!  That said, it pales in comparison to what would be our assigned school based on CSAP alone. Our assigned school has extremely high CSAP scores whereas the school we choose tends to score much lower.  However, I know that the school she is at is much better suited for her as a learner and for us as a family. I am involved at her school and I feel confident about what she is learning and doing as a student.  That is much more important to me than her school’s CSAP scores, which tend to reflect family income perhaps more than the quality of education.

– Kathleen Luttenegger

Ask yourself these key questions

I love your thoughtful, considered approach to this letter offering change.  There are not many places in our lives that consider or encourage slow, measured decision making.  Taking that approach is encouraging to me and great modeling for your kids.

As you work with this concern you might do a pro/con column.  Ask questions such as:

  • What would you gain by moving?
  • What would you lose?
  • What would gain by staying? Lose?
  • Who is sending in the letter?
  • What would they gain if you moved?
  • What would they lose?

Suzanne LustieYou know what is good for you, your family and your community.  There isn’t a perfect school.  We make the best choice we can for our kids and our family and then work with that decision.

NCLB (No Child Left Behind) is only one measure.  It’s a measure that is not universally recognized.  It’s unfortunate that a letter would cite that as a reason for dismissing what another school is doing.  If a school is taking care of business you will be able to see that with several measures not just one.

I encourage you to broaden the lens you are using if you are curious after a pro/con exercise turns up reasons for further exploration.  Thank you for being the kind of thoughtful parent that makes our schools thrive.

– Suzanne Lustie

First Person

I’m a principal who thinks personalized learning shouldn’t be a debate.

PHOTO: Lisa Epstein
Lisa Epstein, principal of Richard H. Lee Elementary, supports personalized learning

This is the first in what we hope will be a tradition of thoughtful opinion pieces—of all viewpoints—published by Chalkbeat Chicago. Have an idea? Send it to

As personalized learning takes hold throughout the city, Chicago teachers are wondering why a term so appealing has drawn so much criticism.

Until a few years ago, the school that I lead, Richard H. Lee Elementary on the Southwest Side, was on a path toward failing far too many of our students. We crafted curriculum and identified interventions to address gaps in achievement and the shifting sands of accountability. Our teachers were hardworking and committed. But our work seemed woefully disconnected from the demands we knew our students would face once they made the leap to postsecondary education.

We worried that our students were ill-equipped for today’s world of work and tomorrow’s jobs. Yet, we taught using the same model through which we’d been taught: textbook-based direct instruction.

How could we expect our learners to apply new knowledge to evolving facts, without creating opportunities for exploration? Where would they learn to chart their own paths, if we didn’t allow for agency at school? Why should our students engage with content that was disconnected from their experiences, values, and community?

We’ve read articles about a debate over personalized learning centered on Silicon Valley’s “takeover” of our schools. We hear that Trojan Horse technologies are coming for our jobs. But in our school, personalized learning has meant developing lessons informed by the cultural heritage and interests of our students. It has meant providing opportunities to pursue independent projects, and differentiating curriculum, instruction, and assessment to enable our students to progress at their own pace. It has reflected a paradigm shift that is bottom-up and teacher led.

And in a move that might have once seemed incomprehensible, it has meant getting rid of textbooks altogether. We’re not alone.

We are among hundreds of Chicago educators who would welcome critics to visit one of the 120 city schools implementing new models for learning – with and without technology. Because, as it turns out, Chicago is fast becoming a hub for personalized learning. And, it is no coincidence that our academic growth rates are also among the highest in the nation.

Before personalized learning, we designed our classrooms around the educator. Decisions were made based on how educators preferred to teach, where they wanted students to sit, and what subjects they wanted to cover.

Personalized learning looks different in every classroom, but the common thread is that we now make decisions looking at the student. We ask them how they learn best and what subjects strike their passions. We use small group instruction and individual coaching sessions to provide each student with lesson plans tailored to their needs and strengths. We’re reimagining how we use physical space, and the layout of our classrooms. We worry less about students talking with their friends; instead, we ask whether collaboration and socialization will help them learn.

Our emphasis on growth shows in the way students approach each school day. I have, for example, developed a mentorship relationship with one of our middle school students who, despite being diligent and bright, always ended the year with average grades. Last year, when she entered our personalized learning program for eighth grade, I saw her outlook change. She was determined to finish the year with all As.

More than that, she was determined to show that she could master anything her teachers put in front of her. She started coming to me with graded assignments. We’d talk about where she could improve and what skills she should focus on. She was pragmatic about challenges and so proud of her successes. At the end of the year she finished with straight As—and she still wanted more. She wanted to get A-pluses next year. Her outlook had changed from one of complacence to one oriented towards growth.

Rather than undermining the potential of great teachers, personalized learning is creating opportunities for collaboration as teachers band together to leverage team-teaching and capitalize on their strengths and passions. For some classrooms, this means offering units and lessons based on the interests and backgrounds of the class. For a couple of classrooms, it meant literally knocking down walls to combine classes from multiple grade-levels into a single room that offers each student maximum choice over how they learn. For every classroom, it means allowing students to work at their own pace, because teaching to the middle will always fail to push some while leaving others behind.

For many teachers, this change sounded daunting at first. For years, I watched one of my teachers – a woman who thrives off of structure and runs a tight ship – become less and less engaged in her profession. By the time we made the switch to personalized learning, I thought she might be done. We were both worried about whether she would be able to adjust to the flexibility of the new model. But she devised a way to maintain order in her classroom while still providing autonomy. She’s found that trusting students with the responsibility to be engaged and efficient is both more effective and far more rewarding than trying to force them into their roles. She now says that she would never go back to the traditional classroom structure, and has rediscovered her love for teaching. The difference is night and day.

The biggest change, though, is in the relationships between students and teachers. Gone is the traditional, authority-to-subordinate dynamic; instead, students see their teachers as mentors with whom they have a unique and individual connection, separate from the rest of the class. Students are actively involved in designing their learning plans, and are constantly challenged to articulate the skills they want to build and the steps that they must take to get there. They look up to their teachers, they respect their teachers, and, perhaps most important, they know their teachers respect them.

Along the way, we’ve found that students respond favorably when adults treat them as individuals. When teachers make important decisions for them, they see learning as a passive exercise. But, when you make it clear that their needs and opinions will shape each school day, they become invested in the outcome.

As our students take ownership over their learning, they earn autonomy, which means they know their teachers trust them. They see growth as the goal, so they no longer finish assignments just to be done; they finish assignments to get better. And it shows in their attendance rates – and test scores.

Lisa Epstein is the principal of Richard H. Lee Elementary School, a public school in Chicago’s West Lawn neighborhood serving 860 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade.

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect that Richard H. Lee Elementary School serves 860 students, not 760 students.

First Person

I’ve spent years studying the link between SHSAT scores and student success. The test doesn’t tell you as much as you might think.

PHOTO: Photo by Robert Nickelsberg/Getty Images

Proponents of New York City’s specialized high school exam, the test the mayor wants to scrap in favor of a new admissions system, defend it as meritocratic. Opponents contend that when used without consideration of school grades or other factors, it’s an inappropriate metric.

One thing that’s been clear for decades about the exam, now used to admit students to eight top high schools, is that it matters a great deal.

Students admitted may not only receive a superior education, but also access to elite colleges and eventually to better employment. That system has also led to an under-representation of Hispanic students, black students, and girls.

As a doctoral student at The Graduate Center of the City University of New York in 2015, and in the years after I received my Ph.D., I have tried to understand how meritocratic the process really is.

First, that requires defining merit. Only New York City defines it as the score on a single test — other cities’ selective high schools use multiple measures, as do top colleges. There are certainly other potential criteria, such as artistic achievement or citizenship.

However, when merit is defined as achievement in school, the question of whether the test is meritocratic is an empirical question that can be answered with data.

To do that, I used SHSAT scores for nearly 28,000 students and school grades for all public school students in the city. (To be clear, the city changed the SHSAT itself somewhat last year; my analysis used scores on the earlier version.)

My analysis makes clear that the SHSAT does measure an ability that contributes to some extent to success in high school. Specifically, a SHSAT score predicts 20 percent of the variability in freshman grade-point average among all public school students who took the exam. Students with extremely high SHSAT scores (greater than 650) generally also had high grades when they reached a specialized school.

However, for the vast majority of students who were admitted with lower SHSAT scores, from 486 to 600, freshman grade point averages ranged widely — from around 50 to 100. That indicates that the SHSAT was a very imprecise predictor of future success for students who scored near the cutoffs.

Course grades earned in the seventh grade, in contrast, predicted 44 percent of the variability in freshman year grades, making it a far better admissions criterion than SHSAT score, at least for students near the score cutoffs.

It’s not surprising that a standardized test does not predict as well as past school performance. The SHSAT represents a two and a half hour sample of a limited range of skills and knowledge. In contrast, middle-school grades reflect a full year of student performance across the full range of academic subjects.

Furthermore, an exam which relies almost exclusively on one method of assessment, multiple choice questions, may fail to measure abilities that are revealed by the variety of assessment methods that go into course grades. Additionally, middle school grades may capture something important that the SHSAT fails to capture: long-term motivation.

Based on his current plan, Mayor de Blasio seems to be pointed in the right direction. His focus on middle school grades and the Discovery Program, which admits students with scores below the cutoff, is well supported by the data.

In the cohort I looked at, five of the eight schools admitted some students with scores below the cutoff. The sample sizes were too small at four of them to make meaningful comparisons with regularly admitted students. But at Brooklyn Technical High School, the performance of the 35 Discovery Program students was equal to that of other students. Freshman year grade point averages for the two groups were essentially identical: 86.6 versus 86.7.

My research leads me to believe that it might be reasonable to admit a certain percentage of the students with extremely high SHSAT scores — over 600, where the exam is a good predictor —and admit the remainder using a combined index of seventh grade GPA and SHSAT scores.

When I used that formula to simulate admissions, diversity increased, somewhat. An additional 40 black students, 209 Hispanic students, and 205 white students would have been admitted, as well as an additional 716 girls. It’s worth pointing out that in my simulation, Asian students would still constitute the largest segment of students (49 percent) and would be admitted in numbers far exceeding their proportion of applicants.

Because middle school grades are better than test scores at predicting high school achievement, their use in the admissions process should not in any way dilute the quality of the admitted class, and could not be seen as discriminating against Asian students.

The success of the Discovery students should allay some of the concerns about the ability of students with SHSAT scores below the cutoffs. There is no guarantee that similar results would be achieved in an expanded Discovery Program. But this finding certainly warrants larger-scale trials.

With consideration of additional criteria, it may be possible to select a group of students who will be more representative of the community the school system serves — and the pool of students who apply — without sacrificing the quality for which New York City’s specialized high schools are so justifiably famous.

Jon Taylor is a research analyst at Hunter College analyzing student success and retention.