Why Numbers Matter
The release of Chicago Magazine’s public school rankings is a reminder of the myriad school options in Chicago. The city high school list alone includes eight selective enrollment high schools, four schools with magnet and/or IB Diploma programs, two charter schools (one virtual), and one dual enrollment program. Even though applications for most schools are not due until the winter, open houses, visit days, and yes, testing dates are fast approaching. Now is the time to start making a plan for finding and getting your child into the best school possible in 2013.
To do this well, it is imperative that you have a strong grasp of the admissions standards for all the schools you are interested in, before it’s too late! This can mean different things for different schools. Independent schools, in particular sometimes have more flexible standards and the ability to consider the whole child in the application process. They do this through visits, interviews, and writing samples along with standardized test scores, usually the ISEE or SSAT, and grades. The most competitive Catholic schools have similar processes and require that applicants sit for an entrance exam, like the HSPT. The wider lens in these schools does not necessarily mean they are easier to get in to. It just means that admissions teams in these schools are able to consider other facets of an applicant’s profile.
Students who apply to CPS Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools, Academic Centers, honors and International Baccalaureate programs, or Selective Enrollment High Schools, on the other hand, face extreme numbers scrutiny. Because of the sheer number of applicants and the scarcity of seats in the most desirable gifted programs, Academic Centers, and SE high schools, further complicated by the tier system, applicants are forced to be nearly perfect to be considered for admission. According to Kate Ellis, CPS Executive Director of Access and Enrollment, there was a record high of 14,284 applicants for roughly 3,200 high school seats this past year. Just writing that sentence elicits feelings of anger and frustration from me, and my oldest child is only in preschool! Feelings about the overall public education system in Chicago aside, it is what it is, as they say. The best thing you can do for your child, if you feel a public selective enrollment school is your best option, is to help them get into the best possible position for acceptance.
If your child is interested in applying to an Academic Center for 7th grade, or a Selective Enrollment High School for 9th grade, that means understanding the scoring system very well. All applicants are scored on a 900 point scale. 300 points are based on 5th or 7th grade standardized test scores (the ISAT for current CPS student, or other nationally normed tests like the Terra Nova or Stanford 10 for students at other schools). 300 points are based 5th or 7th grade final grades in reading, math, science, and social studies. A’s in each subject receive 75 points. Each lower grade is 25 points less, therefore the difference between straight A’s and straight B’s is 100 points! That also means that two-thirds, or 600 points, of the total application is based on 5th or 7th grade academic achievement. Under the current scenario, for students seeking admission to an Academic Center or top SE high school, like Payton or Northside, anything less than straight A’s will disqualify your application. The final 300 points is based on the Academic Center Admissions Test for 6th graders or the Selective Enrollment Entrance Exam for 8th graders.
Check out this CPS point system explanation for further detail.
To get a sense of where your child may fall on the 900 point spectrum, you can also check your child’s current score with the CPS Calculator: If scores are less than stellar, consider academic tutoring and test prep courses to gain improvement.
You can also see last year’s cutoff scores for Academic Centers and SE high schools.
As you can see, the numbers really do matter, and when you factor in the tier system, they matter even more, but that is a discussion for another post!
Don’t hesitate to email or call me with questions!