Technical glitches halt high school admissions test in Chicago

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) paused the High School Admissions Test (HSAT) that was underway on Wednesday morning, October 11, 2023, due to technical problems on the testing platform, officials told principals. The HSAT is a standardized test that students take as part of the admissions requirements for the city’s selective-enrollment high schools, and to enroll at schools outside of their neighborhood boundaries.

Students who finished the test can use their scores as they apply for high schools in GoCPS, the online portal for school choice. For students who couldn’t finish, the district will share alternative testing dates “as soon as possible”, Peter Leonard, executive director of student assessment for CPS, wrote in an email to principals and network chiefs.

Technical glitches halt high school admissions test in Chicago
Technical glitches halt high school admissions test in Chicago

The district authorized a $1.2 million no-bid contract over the summer with Riverside Assessments LLC to provide test materials for high school admissions and other placements, including gifted programs. District spokesperson Samantha Hart said in a statement that the district is working with the testing vendor to resolve the technical problems. They don’t expect any changes to this weekend’s scheduled HSAT testing for non-CPS students, Hart said.

“We recognize the stress many students and families experience when it comes to admissions testing,” Hart wrote.

Some students were able to complete the test, others were not

At one North Side school, students received error messages as they tried to log in to the testing platform, even after refreshing the page, according to an administrator at the school, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press. The school’s testing coordinator tried to call a help desk for the testing vendor but got a busy signal.

Similar problems cropped up at Brentano Elementary Math and Science Academy in Logan Square, said the school’s principal, Seth Lavin.

“They came in anxious and focused, and then they sat down, and for about an hour and a half, proctors tried to log kids into the test and they could not — and nobody knew what was going on,” Lavin said.

By the time CPS notified schools at 10:30 a.m. that it would pause the test, a handful of students were able to complete the exam at both Brentano and the North Side school.

Lavin said he was frustrated by the lack of communication from the district and the testing vendor. He said he had prepared his students for weeks for the test, which he called “a high-stakes moment” for them.

“I don’t think anyone understands how much pressure these kids are under,” he said. “They’ve been told that this test determines their future.”

This year’s exam was shorter than previous years

This year’s HSAT was set to last an hour instead of the previous 2½ hours. CPS made the change in order to “reduce anxiety for students” and increase accessibility, a spokesperson said last month.

The test consists of four sections: reading comprehension, mathematics problem solving, language usage, and quantitative reasoning. The test is scored on a scale of 200 to 800 points, with 600 points being the average score.

The HSAT is one of several factors that determine admission to selective-enrollment high schools, which are among the most sought-after and academically rigorous schools in the city. Other factors include grades, standardized test scores, attendance, and socioeconomic status.

The district offers about 4,000 seats at 11 selective-enrollment high schools each year. Last year, more than 18,000 students applied for those seats.

Parents and advocates call for more transparency and equity in admissions process

The technical glitches that disrupted the HSAT on Wednesday added to the growing concerns of some parents and advocates who have been calling for more transparency and equity in the admissions process for selective-enrollment high schools.

They argue that the HSAT is not a fair measure of student potential and that it favors students who have access to test preparation resources. They also say that the district should prioritize diversity and inclusion in its enrollment policies and practices.

Some parents have filed a federal lawsuit against CPS, alleging that the district discriminated against Black and Latino students by changing its admissions criteria last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The district temporarily suspended the use of standardized test scores and attendance records as admission factors and instead used a lottery system based on socioeconomic tiers.

The lawsuit claims that this change resulted in fewer Black and Latino students being admitted to selective-enrollment high schools. The district has denied any wrongdoing and said that it made the change to ensure fairness and safety for all students during an unprecedented crisis.

The district has resumed using its pre-pandemic admissions criteria this year, but some parents and advocates are pushing for a permanent overhaul of the system.

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