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Student Transfers Face Tough Odds

The odds a child will be able to escape a "failing" Chicago public school are worse than ever this year -- but at least kids will receive far earlier notice of their chance to transfer under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

Parents of about 190,000 elementary students will receive fliers Wednesday, during report card pickup, that their schools' state test scores have been so chronically low that their children will be offered a chance to transfer to better-performing schools next school year, officials said.

Those kids will be vying for probably about 500 seats, or one for every 380 eligible kids. That's the worst odds in three years of such transfers under a federal law designed to free students from "failing'' schools. Last year, it was one seat for every 247 kids.

And, unlike last year, high school transfers probably will not be offered, because, at the moment, no seats in better-performing high schools are available, said Xavier Botana, coordinator of the system's transfer program.

As they returned from spring break Monday, principals in nearly two-thirds of the system's elementary schools were greeted with notice that their schools are on the system's transfer list -- even before the tests that trigger such transfers are scored.

For the first time, Chicago is using last school year's test scores to calculate next school year's transfers to avoid the disruption of each of the last two years, when late test data meant parents had to make quick transfer decisions over the summer, right before school started. This year, a lottery to decide who can transfer will be held in June instead of August.

"It's an efficiency thing, but more than anything, it's predictability for the kids,'' Botana said. "When kids go home [for the summer], they will know what school they are going to next year.''

State Schools Supt. Robert Schiller is pleased that Chicago is "getting a jump start,'' said his spokeswoman, Karen Craven.

Botana said he expected few changes to the list once this year's test scores come in.

But even if there are changes, kids who win the June lottery can attend their new school in the fall, Botana said. And, if more schools are added to the list over the summer, more notices to parents will be sent out, he said.

On Wednesday, parents who are given both a disappointing report card and a transfer flier may wonder "whether what's reflected in the report card is the child's work, or problems at the school,'' said Julie Woestehoff, head of Parents United for Responsible Education. "I think parents will have a lot more questions than ever before.''

Woestehoff welcomed the earlier notification of parents. Summer letters "didn't register'' with some parents or got lost, she said. The new fliers will tell parents to expect a formal letter in May informing them of their transfer options. Parents also will be told if their children are entitled to extra tutoring under the No Child Left Behind law.

"I think it's good they are increasing the communication,'' Woestehoff said. "It will increase the likelihood parents will take advantage of the option -- unless they get the letter at school with the spoken message that, 'Oh, you'll never get in anyway.'"

— Rosalind Rossi
Chicago Sun-Times


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