Academic Progress

Academic Progress

Ramping Up Instruction

Efforts are underway to strengthen instruction in every major subject citywide. Here are a few highlights:

Language Arts

Thriving in the Information Age requires the ability to read, think, write and converse about complex topics. Through the CPS Balanced Literacy Initiative, Pre-K to 8th grade teachers will learn how to guide their students to analyze, discuss and write about challenging literature and nonfiction. In a balanced literacy classroom, students go beyond answering simple factual questions. Instead they learn to respond thoughtfully to open-ended prompts and justify their opinions with examples from the text. As they discuss their interpretations with small groups of peers, they learn to consider and respond to different points of view. CPS will also introduce a new writing curriculum for grades 1 to 12 that teaches narrative, argumentative and explanatory writing. All of these literacy skills are highly valued in college and the workplace. While many CPS teachers are already skilled at balanced literacy, the initiative will spread best practices to more classrooms through professional development and coaching provided by the Office of Teaching and Learning.


High quality mathematics instruction is essential to preparing students to succeed in the modern workforce. Offering high school algebra to advanced 8th graders will enable them to enroll in calculus as high school seniors and boost their chances at selective college admission. About 200 CPS elementary schools already have a high school algebra course taught by a credentialed teacher. To expand that number and eventually include all schools enrolling 8th-graders, CPS will support tuition costs for 45 elementary teachers per year to earn the required certification. Regions of the city with the fewest participating schools will get priority.


The Next Generation Science Standards call for a new model for science instruction that has students doing the work of scientists rather than simply reading about science and memorizing facts. A unit on molecular bonding in chemistry class, for example, might begin with students observing if hand sanitizer evaporates off their hands more quickly than water. Through a series of investigations, students pose questions, design experiments and collect data and finally, are able to explain what they’ve learned about molecular structure and intermolecular forces. The Office of Teaching and Learning is working with teachers across the district to design units based on this new approach and will incorporate them into a districtwide curriculum that any school may choose to adopt. The Department of Science also offers ongoing professional development on the new model available to all CPS teachers.

Social Science and Civic Engagement

New state standards in Social Science will require that students in CPS have an opportunity to study history, geography, civics, economics, and the many disciplines of the Social Sciences in a way that promotes inquiry, connects to present-day issues, and includes diverse perspectives. To ensure teachers are prepared for the new Social Science standards, CPS will design and deliver targeted professional learning opportunities and curricular resources through the Office of Teaching and Learning. As part of the Pre-K to 12 curriculum development project, CPS will include Social Science curriculum, and in particular, ensure that all teachers receive curriculum that is culturally relevant to the communities in which they teach. Students will learn about the history, culture and contributions of African-Americans, Latinos and the many diverse communities of our city and nation.

In addition, CPS will go above and beyond the new state requirement for a semester of high school civics and become a national model for civic learning and student civic engagement. This spring, CPS is releasing Ready to ENGAGE, a three year plan and framework for expanding civic learning in the district. In grades K-8, a civic learning curriculum will engage children in service learning projects in their communities. In every high school, teachers will receive professional development to incorporate civic learning in all subject areas. For example, students in science classrooms will have the opportunity to connect curriculum to local environmental issues while students in literature classes will develop speeches that use rhetorical devices to propose a solution to a neighborhood problem. High school students will also complete a year-long civics class and two service learning projects to graduate.

Fine and Performing Arts

To support deeper learning in the arts, CPS changed the graduation requirement in 2016 to allow high school students to earn their two art credits in one artistic discipline, such as music or visual art, rather than splitting those credits between two different disciplines. This change allows students to delve more deeply into one particular area if they so choose. While artistic expression is valuable in its own right, studies find 2 that students who take art classes boost their achievement in other academic areas. Learning academic subjects through music, drama, dance and the visual arts also improves academic success. As teachers craft the district’s new Pre-K to 12 curriculum, they will look for opportunities to link topics taught in art class or artistic practices with historic time periods, cultures, scientific principles or mathematical concepts students are learning simultaneously in other subject areas.

Computer Science

CPS has become a national leader in computer science education since Mayor Rahm Emanuel launched the Computer Science for All Initiative (CS4All) for students in grades K-12 in 2013. Computer programming skills are in enormous demand in today’s workforce and building an early interest in computer science—with projects involving coding, robotics and video game design—can open up exciting career possibilities, especially for those typically underrepresented in this field, such as women and people of color. Even for those whose interests lie elsewhere, learning to program a computer is an engaging way to practice the kind of logical thinking and creative problem-solving employers demand. CPS recently became the first district in the nation to require computer science credit for high school graduation, and other large urban districts have since followed suit. Beginning in 2016, with the Class of 2020, all high school students will be required to complete at least one credit of computer science. More than 100 CPS schools have already adopted the CS4All curriculum, and we will expand that number by 50 to 60 schools annually, providing them with professional development and technical support

Go to CS4All to learn more.

World and Native Languages

In a global society, fluency in more than one language deepens cultural understanding and broadens career opportunities. By increasing access and participation in our world and native language programs, we are providing a platform for students to develop these critical skills that will not only improve postsecondary success, but will make them stronger members of our diverse communities. Beginning in 2015, students who graduated high school prepared for college-level coursework in English and another world language (either a second language or their native language) were eligible to earn a “Seal of Biliteracy” on their high school transcripts. The seal certifies for colleges and employers a student’s mastery of two or more languages. By 2020, at least 25 percent of our high school graduates will earn a Seal of Biliteracy.

To prepare more students to earn this prestigious credential, we will:

  • Expand the number of elementary schools offering world language and standardize their curriculum to improve language acquisition.
  • Require every high school to offer at least one college-level world language class.
  • Expand dual language programs from 20 school this year to 30 schools by the fall of 2019, including two high schools. Dual language programs immerse English-speaking and Spanish-speaking students together in the same program and teach academic subjects in both languages.
  • Provide districtwide professional development to strengthen English Learner programs so that students are able to improve their ability to read, write and speak in both English and their native language, while also meeting the same rigorous academic standards as their English-speaking peers.

Learn more at Language and Cultural Education: Seal of Biliteracy

Support More Schools to Adopt “Personalized Learning”

Years ago, teachers marched students through the same curriculum at the same pace, leaving some behind and others unchallenged. Today, skilled teachers know how to meet a variety of learning needs with small group lessons and individual assignments. “Personalized learning” goes even further in customizing instruction and allows students to take more responsibility for their own learning, building the kind of self-direction and reflection needed to succeed in the modern workplace and in life.

In a personalized learning classroom, teachers tailor the curriculum to meet each student’s needs, strengths and interests. While all students are ultimately working toward the same goals, they have a voice in choosing their path and are able to work at their own level and pace. In a classroom, you might see students working at “centers” around the room, alone or with peers, on a variety of literacy activities. You might see other students collaborating on a chemistry experiment they selected, discussing how to solve a complex “real-world” math problem or interpreting and dramatizing their favorite scene from a Shakespeare play—all while the teacher circulates, coaches and instructs. In some personalized learning settings, both teachers and students use online tools and assessments so that progress is easily monitored and instruction becomes more targeted to meet learner needs.

We envision the growth of personalized learning as a collaborative, grassroots effort led by teachers and administrators and supported by central office and outside partners. One of our key partners, LEAP Innovations, has already begun paving the way with innovative models such as Breakthrough Schools and Pilot Network. Cohorts of schools in these programs undergo professional development and receive support from educational technology partners as they begin personalized learning implementation. As a district, in addition to connecting schools with external partners and useful technology, we will create an online forum where CPS teachers who have adopted personalized learning can ask each other for advice and share successful practices.

Learn more at Personalized Learning

Support Every School in Establishing an Effective Multi-Tiered System of Supports

Every child’s achievement begins with high quality instruction, though some will need extra support to thrive. Many schools have teams in place to help teachers support students who struggle academically or behaviorally. However, we need to do more to equip all schools with the systems needed to effectively help struggling learners. Beginning in the 2016-2017 school year, every school built a “Multi-tiered System of Supports” (MTSS) framework to provide all students with the level of academic or social-emotional support they need to be successful. MTSS is a proven strategy promoted by the U.S. Department of Education. At each school, an MTSS team made up of teachers, administrators and specialists identifies how to better support learners with additional tools, such as extra reading lessons, tutoring, mentoring, small group counseling or therapy. Principals and MTSS teams receive ongoing training from their regional networks on how to identify, support and monitor student progress. Network specialists also monitor student progress at each school through an online database to see where MTSS teams need additional training and support to accelerate student learning.

Page Last Modified on Thursday, January 04, 2018