Ranking CPS Schools: It's Easy as 1-2-3

The numbers are in, the spreadsheets have been released, and CPS parents now know whether their kids are currently attending Level 1, 2 or 3 schools.

Whatever that means.

According to CPS, a Level 1 school is a school in "Excellent Standing," a Level 2 school is a school in "Good Standing," and a Level 3 school is a school on "Probation."

So what does it take, in 2013, to earn the district's coveted Level 1 designation? And what's the difference, on paper at least, between a Level 1 school and a Level 3 school?

Let's look at some numbers.

Northside College Prep High School, one of Chicago's premier selective-enrollment high schools, retained its Level 1 status with predictably impressive numbers. The average ACT score of students at the school is 29.4. The school has a student attendance rate of 95%, and a whopping 98.8% of Northside's students met or exceeded state standards on the Prairie State Achievement Examination ("PSAE").

Northside shares a CPS Level 1 distinction with Phillips High School, which became an AUSL "turnaround" school back in 2010. Phillips achieved its Level 1 status this year with an average ACT score of 15.2. Phillips has a 78% attendance rate (the CPS district average in 2012 was 86%), and only 14.6% of Phillips' students met or exceeded state standards on the PSAE. Despite its Level 1 designation, Phillips remains on probation.

Phillips High School and Northside College Prep. CPS says both are Level 1 schools in "Excellent Standing." Parents, take your pick.

At the other end of the CPS rating spectrum are the district's Level 3 schools, which you'd reasonably expect to be performing markedly worse than a high-flying Level 1 school like, say, Phillips.

One of those Level 3 schools is Lake View High School, which is located just a few blocks from Mayor Emanuel's house. Lake View's composite ACT score is 18.2 -- 3 points higher than Phillips' score. Its attendance rate is 88.4%, which is 10 percentage points higher than Phillips' attendance and also higher than the district average. And 36.8% of Lake View's kids met or exceeded state standards on the PSAE, which is also higher than the district's 2012 average of 31.5%. It's also a big step up from Level 1 Phillips and the 14.6% of its students who hit or passed that same mark.

Lake View shares a Level 3 ranking with Collins High School, which, like Phillips, is another AUSL "turnaround" school.

The average ACT score at Collins is 14.1. Only 3.3% of its students met or exceeded state standards on the PSAE, and the school's attendance rate is 79%. When Arne Duncan closed the school back in 2006, citing bad test scores and declining enrollment, the school's average ACT score was 14.4.

Mayor Emanuel, by the way, praised AUSL's Collins back in June 2011 as an example of a successful "turnaround" school.

Sitting somewhere between the "highs" of Phillips and the "lows" of Lake View are the district's Level 2 high schools. One of those schools stuck in the middle is the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences ("Chicago Ag"), which has an average ACT score of 20.4, an attendance rate of 93.1%, and 58.1% of its kids meeting or exceeding PSAE standards.

Chicago Ag shares a middle-of-the-pack Level 2 designation with Clemente High School, where 8.8% of the kids are meeting or exceeding PSAE standards. Clemente secured its Level 2 "Good Standing," in part, with an average ACT score of 15, and an 81.5% attendance rate.

In June 2012, Mayor Emanuel announced that Clemente would adopt a "rigorous IB program" and become a "wall-to-wall" International Baccalaureate high school.

Let's hope the program is more "rigorous" than the district's Level 1, 2 and 3 rating system.