Chicago Public Schools Halts High School Admissions Test Due to Technical Glitches

Technical difficulties on the testing platform have led Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to pause the High School Admissions Test that was taking place on Wednesday morning, according to officials. CPS executive director of student assessment, Peter Leonard, informed principals in an email that students who were already testing successfully could continue, but all other schools should stop testing for the day.

As part of the admissions requirements for selective-enrollment high schools in the city, as well as for enrollment at some schools outside of their neighborhood boundaries, students are required to take the HSAT. On Wednesday, eighth graders were scheduled to take the exams on computers in school. This year, the exam was shortened to one hour from its previous duration of 2.5 hours, with CPS making the change to reduce student anxiety and improve accessibility.

Leonard noted in his communication that students who managed to complete the test on Wednesday could use their scores when applying for high schools through GoCPS. For those who were unable to finish, the district promised to provide alternative testing dates as soon as possible.

CPS spokesperson Samantha Hart stated that the district is working with the testing vendor to resolve the technical problems. She also mentioned that they don’t expect any changes to the HSAT testing for non-CPS students scheduled for the upcoming weekend.

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

The district awarded a no-bid contract worth $1.2 million over the summer to Riverside Assessments LLC to supply test materials for high school admissions and other programs like gifted placements.

At one school on the North Side, students encountered error messages while attempting to log in to the testing platform. The issue persisted even after refreshing the page, according to an administrator who requested anonymity. The school’s testing coordinator tried to contact the testing vendor’s help desk but received a busy signal.

Similar problems were reported at Brentano Elementary Math and Science Academy in Logan Square, according to the school’s principal, Seth Lavin.

Lavin stated, “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.”

By the time CPS notified schools at 10:30 a.m. that the test would be paused, a few students at both Brentano and the North Side school had managed to complete the exam.

At the North Side school, some students could finally log in by that time, but other issues arose. Some students saw Spanish words appear and had to request translations from teachers. This year marks the first time the test is offered in Spanish, Arabic, Mandarin, Urdu, and Polish.

The administrator at the North Side school criticized the district, saying the glitches were a “gross oversight” and that they should have ensured the system could handle the simultaneous testing of tens of thousands of students. CPS has approximately 24,000 eighth graders enrolled this year, according to district data.

They also argued that all students, not just those unable to complete the exam, should be allowed to retake the test due to the high levels of stress experienced. The administrator emphasized that students were already “very anxious” about the HSAT.

When asked about the testing issues at an unrelated press conference, Mayor Brandon Johnson said that the public school system should not reject the hopes and aspirations of families, particularly Black families. He expressed his commitment to building a school system that provides access to high-quality education for all Chicago residents.

Lavin, who has previously criticized the selective-enrollment system, pointed out that the problems on Wednesday highlighted the fragility and arbitrariness of the admissions process. The HSAT accounts for 50% of the admissions rubric for selective-enrollment high schools.

Lavin argued, “Kids who are 13 years old should not have a 60-minute experience that decides so much about the next four years of their life.” He added that a better approach is needed if some students are accepted into certain high schools while others are not.

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