MEDIA WATCH: Tribune's blogger Russo gets it wrong again in cheap shot against Karen Lewis and Jesse Sharkey on REACH, CPS kindergarten testing craziness

Since he began his career as an unabashed fan of corporate school reform about 15 years ago, Tribune blogger Alexander Russo (currently pontificating about CPS from his perch in Brooklyn, New York) has towed what might today be called the "Bruce Rauner line" on the Chicago Teachers Union. CTU is BAD! Those who track such versions of reality will recall that Russo posted a "Novte NO!" graphic before the CTU strike authorization referendum in June, and that he was right up there with the Astroturf grouplets during the strike.

Of late, Russo has tried to take on CTU President Karen Lewis, who does her homework about Chicago's schools every day from Chicago, on the question of how many "tests" Chicago kindergarteners are being forced to take this year. Rahm Emanuel continues to try to impose the Broad Foundation's version of "reform" on CPS, and Russo is right out there in the Rahm fan club.

As everyone who has been paying attention knows, CTU President Lewis and Vice President Jesse Sharkey have been noting that in CPS, kindergarteners have been forced to take 14 tests this school year — and that across the city this year, thanks to REACH and the other latest fads — CPS is still leading the nation is too many tests. Russo recently tried to call Lewis and Sharkey liars. He did so by pontificating falsely off a story that originally appeared in Medill News Service (see further below).

Russo's version at is blog:

"Kudos to Heather Momyer at the Medill Report for fact-checking the oft-repeated Karen Lewis claim about 14 tests for kindergartners, which turns out to include optional tests not required by the district, brief on-the-fly diagnostics that most of us wouldn't consider tests, and options provided to give different teachers and schools choices about which measures to use..."

Despite Russo's lead, the article actually affirms what Sharkey and Lewis have been saying. As usual, the CPS chieftains utilize a surrogate to do their dirty work. So here merely gives another of the many CPS "spokesmen" a chance to show their ignorance of what goes on in the schools — "CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said Lewis’ statement isn’t true..."


Jennifer Biggs' children go to Mark Sheridan Math and Science Acadamy. Their school's assessments include optional testing.

How many standardized tests do Chicago Public School kindergarteners actually take? The answer, it seems, depends on who you ask.

Last week Karen Lewis, the often-feisty president of the Chicago Teachers Union, told a parent group that kindergarteners have to take 14 tests this year. That’s what some people call education reform, Lewis said, but “it should be called child abuse” because of the stress the testing regime imposes on youngsters.

CPS officials dispute that count, and say the number is much smaller. The big gap appears to reflect different interpretations of the word test, and the inclusion of separate tests that can be added at individual schools.

CPS spokeswoman Marielle Sainvilus said Lewis’ statement isn’t true. “There are two required assessments for kindergarteners that are administered at the beginning and end of year,” she wrote in an emailed response.

Those two tests are the REACH Performance Tasks – a wide-ranging evaluation that CPS uses as a key measure of teacher performance -- and a literacy–and-math test known as the NWEA MAP for Primary Grades. That suggests CPS administers four tests to kindergarten students, two in the autumn and two in the spring. How can four tests become 14?

Different schools have the option of requiring additional tests, for one thing. Julie Fain, wife of CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey and mother of a kindergartener at Pritzker Elementary School, breaks it down this way: “For NWEA MAP Testing, students test in reading and math three times this year. For REACH testing, students will take a literacy test twice this year.”

There’s also a literacy test, known by its acronym DIBELS, that will be given three times this year, she said. And Pritzker also administers a math test, known as mClass, that will be given three times this year. Fain counts the components of the multi-subject tests separately; so a test that includes both math and reading is counted as two tests. Hypothetically, the number of tests could even be higher than the 14 Fain and Lewis mention: In the fine print, the online CPS assessment calendar indicates that about 40 kindergarten classrooms will also participate in a state pilot test called KIDS, which will assess students in six categories, three times per year.

Critics say the school system’s extensive reliance on testing is a distraction for teachers, and takes a toll on students. “At that age, it’s important for teachers to develop relationships with children and build routines and communities,” said Dr. Christine Maxwell, Director of the New Schools Project at Erikson Institute. Maxwell, who works with individual CPS elementary schools by helping on-site professional development for faculty, also said excessive testing can be disruptive to children who are learning to build attention spans.

Jennifer Cheatham, CPS Chief of Instruction, said the optional tests, which she called “performance tasks and diagnostic assessments,” are given based on decisions made by principals and teachers at individual schools, and are meant to help teachers develop a “well-rounded picture of how students are doing" in terms of the common core. “Every teacher at every school should have access to diagnostics, though not necessarily the district’s,” Cheatham said, adding that teachers can come up with their own, to adapt their teaching to individual children based student performance, Cheatham said.

Parents are concerned in part because some of the tests require pulling individual students out of class one at a time, with the teacher, which breaks the classroom flow. “I’d like to see more types of assessments that are embedded in classroom methods,” the Erikson Institute’s Maxwell said.

Catalyst reported the story the following days as follows:

For the Record: Principal bonus disparities, By: Rebecca Harris and Sarah Karp / October 29, 2012

During Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s announcement of performance bonuses for principals at 82 schools, he touted the broad diversity of schools represented as proof that, with good teachers, good principals, and involved parents, all children can learn.

“If you have these three things, every kid regardless of who they are, where they’re from and their background, can succeed in our schools,” Emanuel said.

CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett added: “It does not essentially matter where a child comes from. We cannot change that, but we can change the arena a child comes into.”

In a press release, Emanuel’s office said the scores were calculated based on four factors: improving test scores, raising the percentage of students who graduate and who are ready for college, and decreasing the achievement gap. Principals who met CPS’ bar in two of the factors earned $5,000. Those who showed improvement in three factors earned $10,000.

Principals could have the bonus check made out to themselves or their schools.

Principals at four schools – Chavez, Lowell, Keller Gifted and Lavizzo – received the highest bonus of $20,000 for improving in all four areas.

Even so, not all schools are doing equally well. Principals at schools with the most low-income students, and those at the most segregated high schools, were less likely to earn bonuses. Principals at schools with more white students were more likely to earn bonuses.

A Catalyst Chicago analysis shows that:

*Principals at the elementary schools where fewer than half of students receive free or reduced-price lunches had a 38 percent chance of receiving bonuses. At the other end of the spectrum, principals at elementary schools where more than 95 percent of students are on free and reduced lunch had just a 10 percent chance of getting a bonus.

*Among elementary schools where at least one-fifth of the students are white, almost twice as many principals – 23 percent – received bonuses compared to other elementary schools, where just 12 percent did.

*Principals at high schools where more than 95 percent of students receive a free or reduced-price lunch were a little over half as likely as other high school principals to receive bonuses: 4 percent vs 7 percent elsewhere.

*More than half of all high schools are at least 80 percent African-American or 80 percent Latino students. But just two of the 10 high schools where principals got bonuses fall into this category.

*Gifted and magnet schools make up 12 percent of elementary schools in CPS, but 24 percent of the elementary schools whose principals earned bonuses.

Promising signs in struggling schools

Some neighborhood schools, however, showed promising signs of improvement despite the disparities. In high-poverty Roseland, principals at four schools – three of them neighborhood schools – received bonuses.

They included Lavizzo Elementary, a long-underperforming school which narrowly escaped a turnaround several years ago. But today, that school’s principal, Tracey Stelley, took home a $20,000 bonus. The percentage of students meeting and exceeding state standards on the ISAT composite has increased by nearly 20 points in each of the last two years, to 75 percent today.

In West Garfield Park, principals at six schools earned bonuses. They were among 11 elementary schools in the Garfield-Humboldt Elementary Network who received bonuses, a third of the schools in that network.

One principal at a school for students with emotional and behavioral disabilities, Montefiore, also received a bonus. The percentage of students meeting or exceeding state standards on the ISAT composite increased from 8 percent in 2011 to 26 percent in 2012.

Principals at five elementary schools in the wealthier neighborhoods of Norwood Park, where median household income is $64,477, and Forest Glen, where it is $87,394, also received bonuses.

Overall, the 78 elementary schools where principals got bonuses included four turnaround schools, seven charter schools, eight schools with gifted programs, and nine magnets.

The 10 high schools included two charter schools: Young Women’s Leadership Charter School and Noble Street-Chicago Bulls. They also included two selective enrollment schools, Northside College Prep and Whitney Young High School.

Principal recruitment, retention a struggle

Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett told principals gathered at the press conference that “we will continue to do everything we can to support you, retain you.” And turning directly toward them, she added: “You ain’t going nowhere.”

CPS has long struggled with principal retention and quality, and the bonuses are one part of a strategy to improve principal recruitment and training. CPS also began offering $25,000 signing bonuses for out of town principals, but no candidates have received them since the year-long initiative began in March. Officials were aiming to recruit 50 principals through the program.

Starting with this fall’s class of incoming principal candidates, the district also kicked off an effort to improve principal training, called the Chicago Leadership Collaborative.

Stanley Griggs, a bonus winner who is the principal at Owen Elementary Magnet School in Ashburn, says he is not sure whether the bonuses will improve retention.

“It feels great because finally I feel like someone has recognized not only my efforts, but the efforts of my assistant principals, teachers, parents,” he said, adding that the recognition helped him feel energized.

He said the bonuses could make a difference “for some, maybe, (but) for myself, no.”

“I don’t think we do it for the money. It’s in our hearts to do this right for the kids,” Griggs said. But, he added, “It doesn’t hurt.”

This story has been updated to include additional information from CPS, including a list of the specific bonus amounts principals received.

Elementary schools where principals earned bonuses

1. Demetrius Bunch ARMSTRONG, L

2. Estuardo Mazin BARRY

3. Sandra Caudill BELL

4. Troy LaRaviere BLAINE

5. Staci Bennett BRADWELL

6. Christopher Brake BRIDGE

7. Donald Morris BURROUGHS

8. Joe Piela CHAPPELL

9. Barton Dassinger CHAVEZ

10. Christy Krier CICS-BUCKTOWN



13. Greg Zurawski COONLEY

14. Bud Bryant CULLEN

15. Susan Kukielka DECATUR

16. Kathleen Hagstrom DISNEY

17. Elizabeth Alvarez DORE

18. Pamela Creed DULLES

19. Chandra Byrd-Wright DUNNE TECH ACAD

20. Janice Kepka EDGEBROOK

21. Shirley Scott ELLINGTON

22. Brian Metcalfe FIELD

23. Cynthia Miller FISKE

24. Barbara Kargas GOETHE

25. Yvette Curington GOLDBLATT

26. Donella Carter GREGORY

27. James Gray HAMILTON

28. Alfonso Carmona HEALY

29. Jacqueline Hearns HEFFERAN

30. Juliana Perisin HENDRICKS

31. Mable Alfred HIGGINS

32. Pam Brunson-Allen HINTON

33. Matthew Ditto JACKSON, A

34. Catherine Jernigan JENSEN

35. Alice Henry JOHNSON

36. Delena Little KELLER

37. Brenda Browder KELLMAN

38. Elisabeth Huetefeu LASALLE

39. Tracey Stelly LAVIZZO

40. Mark Armendariz LINCOLN

41. Gladys Rivera LOWELL

42. Carolyn Epps MARCONI

43. Jo Easterling-Hood MCDOWELL

44. Nancy Hanks MELODY

45. Julious Lawson MONTEFIORE

46. Catherine Reidy MOUNT GREENWOOD

47. Sonia Caban MOZART


49. Renee Blahuta NORWOOD PARK

50. Elias Estrada ORIOLE PARK

51. Stanley Griggs OWEN

52. Hassan Okab PECK

53. Vicky Kleros PEREZ

54. Kelly Moore POE

55. Angela Johnson-Williams PROVIDENCE - BUNCHE

56. Pat Baccellieri PULASKI

57. Ana Espinoza SANDOVAL

58. Isamar Vargas SAUCEDO

59. Christine Munns SAUGANASH

60. Suzana Ustabecir SAYRE

61. Deborah Clark SKINNER

62. W. Delores Robinson SUMNER

63. Sean Clayton TILTON

64. Sabrina Jackson TURNER-DREW

65. Molly Robinson UNO - SANDRA CISNEROS

66. Joann Lerman UNO - FUENTES

67. Martin Masterson UNO - PAZ

68. Krish Mohip WALSH

69. Relanda Hobbs WARD, L

70. Dina Everage WENTWORTH

71. Mary Beth Cunat WILDWOOD

72. Tamara Littlejohn WOODSON

High schools where principals earned bonuses


2. Yashika Tippett AIR FORCE HS

3. Patty Brekke INFINITY HS

4. Chris Jones MATHER HS


6. Mary Dolan RICHARDS HS

7. Sue Lofton SENN HS

8. Todd Yarch VOISE HS

9. Joyce Kenner WHITNEY YOUNG HS