Change Comes to Chicago’s Selective Enrollment Application Process– is it enough?

Chicago’s 11 Selective Enrollment high schools rank among the best in the city; however, by design not all students who apply get to attend one of them. Of the 26,000 applicants last year, fewer than 5,000 were offered spots.

Last week, High Jump Executive Director Nate Pietrini spoke with Sasha-Ann Simons of WBEZ’s Reset about the recent changes to Chicago’s high-stakes, high-stress Selective Enrollment admissions process and how the changes might impact student outcomes.

During their conversation Pietrini shared that around 80% of Chicago Public School students do not attend their neighborhood school. Instead, they choose to take one of two other pathways. Students who choose the Selective Enrollment path face an incredibly difficult road not unlike the college application process. Students who opt for a Choice high school do not just tick a box but have to meet various admissions criteria based on the school where they apply.

“You’ve really got to do your homework and think about what’s going to work for you. What’s going to be a good fit, and what’s going to be a good match. It’s a little wild to do when you’re fourteen years old.”

Nate Pietrini, Ed.D., Executive Director of High Jump

Things used to be different for the 90 CPS schools that rely on test scores as part of their application process. Students would register for testing on a Saturday at a location that was often not their home school. For under-resourced 13-year-olds, some of whom would navigate the process independently, getting themselves to and from a testing location could be a significant obstacle. One that could stand in the way of their ability to even apply to one of these schools.

“A couple of things that are new this year that are important to note is that there are fewer steps in the process, and some of the requirements…have been removed.”

Nate Pietrini, Ed.D., Executive Director of High Jump 

Now, there will only be one test taken by every eighth-grade student in Chicago at their home school. This new approach to testing, the first round of which will take place next month, should reduce the large number of students who register for but never take the test. As a result, some students will now qualify for and be able to apply to schools they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Photo of an eighth-grade student preparing for high school entrance exams.
An eighth-grade student prepares for high school entrance exams as part of High Jump’s high school selection support class.

Are we in favor of these changes? Yes, but a lot of work still needs to be done to make the process more equitable and more accessible.

“What would the high school application process look like if it provided more access for under-resourced families? Our most selective schools do not represent the city. They are predominantly white and can be affluent. The most selective schools are actually getting whiter and wealthier over time. This process needs to be examined if those are the outcomes it is creating…we need to do something to stop these disparities from continuing.” 

Nate Pietrini, Ed.D., Executive Director of High Jump

At High Jump, our goal isn’t just to get kids into good high schools. It’s about supporting them with resources and tools that will get them to and through college.

We know that with all of the continued challenges of the pandemic, grades have dropped for Chicago’s Black and LatinX students. As High Jump scholars begin their high school application process this year, we are here to provide our time, resources, and support to help students and families navigate this changing process.

Our work is more critical than ever. Will you donate today to ensure continued support for our students?

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