CPS Gifted Schools: All You Need to Know About Chicago's Gifted Programs

Chicago Gifted Programs: welcome to the labyrinth!

Chicago Gifted Programs: welcome to the labyrinth!

 In an urban district that serves almost 400,000 students, it can be intimidating and challenging to navigate the waters that are the public school system. But in Chicago Public Schools (CPS), many parents are arming themselves with important research and facts to help them make the best decision about where to send their child.

As if the stakes of finding a great education for their child weren't high enough, add in the competitive nature of CPS gifted schools, and you are looking at a whole new ballgame.

As many neighborhood schools continually receive low-performance ratings and are listed as schools in need of improvement, a lot of parents are finding the traditional route as an unattractive option.

While private schools consistently receive top marks and have a great reputation, their costly price tag is enough of a reason for many to look elsewhere. CPS’ selective enrollment programs prove to be the answer that parents are looking for, but they quickly find that they aren't the only ones who are looking at this competitive option.

What Are Your Options? 



Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is home to close to 500 elementary schools, with five types of specialty schools along with the standard neighborhood schools. The five specialty schools that can be found in the CPS system are gifted, classical, magnet, magnet cluster, and charter.

Of these, the magnet, magnet cluster, and charter schools select students mainly through a computerized lottery system that gives students a level playing field for a chance to gain admission.

Gifted and classical schools, however, require admission tests and other enrollment criteria as they offer a rigorous and accelerated curriculum.

what are the odds of admission?

As a testament to the competitive and elite process that is necessary to gain admission to these selective enrollment programs, one must only take a look at the numbers. The figures change from year to year, but CPS receives approximately 11-12,000 applications for its gifted and classical schools each year, approximately 3,000 of which are just for the kindergarten programs which only have about 500 seats available. When analyzing these intimidating odds, it's no wonder so many parents are willing to do whatever it takes in order for their child to get one of those prized kindergarten spots.

What does CPS offer in terms of Gifted Programs?

Before you can gain access to one of the CPS gifted schools, it is vital to fully understand the complex system.

In the CPS system, there are gifted and classical schools, all of which are grouped in the category of “selective enrollment elementary schools”. Of these selective enrollment schools, 13 are Regional Gifted Centers and five are Classical schools.

The Regional Gifted Centers are specifically designed with an accelerated curriculum for students that are identified as gifted.

Three of these centers are designed for students whose primary language is Polish, Russian, or Spanish, while all of the centers place an emphasis on problem solving, logical reasoning, critical thinking, and creativity. Students are exposed to a second language, as well as to laboratory science, computer science, and the fine arts.

Classical schools are another type of advanced option in CPS for students that are identified as gifted. There are five Classical Schools in the Chicago Public Schools district and they are Decatur, McDade, Poe, Skinner North, and Skinner West.

These schools were designed to create a challenging and enriched liberal arts curriculum for students who demonstrated high academic potential. The advanced curriculum includes instruction in literature, mathematics, language arts, world language, and the humanities.

The instruction that students receive in these Classical Schools is rigorous and highly structured, with the goal of strong academic achievement being the main priority. The curriculum is accelerated one grade above the student’s current grade level and is highly enriched with opportunities for problem solving, critical thinking, and STEM projects and demonstrations.

What Admissions Tests Does My Child Need to Take?

Regional Gifted Centers Admissions Test

In order to be considered for admission to one of the CPS Regional Gifted Centers, prospective students in grades K-8 must take the Regional Gifted Centers exam. This exam focuses on cognitive abilities and is a crucial factor in becoming enrolled in one of the CPS selective enrollment schools. 

Although the specific test that is used to qualify for the CPS gifted program is not revealed by the school district, it has been best compared to another commonly used test for gifted programs across the country, the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test, or the OLSAT.

The OLSAT assesses a child’s verbal and nonverbal abilities that connect to their academic success and achievement. The test is made up of 21 different question types, which requires students to follow directions, listen and make inferences, and create math problems, to name a few. Students take different levels of the OLSAT, and are tested on different question types, according to their age.

The CogAT, or Cognitive Abilities Test, is also a commonly used assessment tool that is utilized by Gifted and Talented Programs. Like the OLSAT, the CogAT has different levels for students in grades K-12 with varying degrees of difficulty and content. There are ten CogAT levels and is given in a group setting and is administered by a proctor. It contains multiple-choice questions and is given one section at a time. The CogAT has 3 sections: verbal, nonverbal and the quantitative.

As there are many different problem types that make up the admissions exam, it is important for parents to show their child examples of questions that could be on the test, such as those provided on the OLSAT and the CogAT. Another way to help them is to work through the problems aloud together, so they become used to the processes they would go through. By being exposed to sample tests, they will gain the confidence needed to be able to successfully complete the admissions test independently.

If you would like to have your child start to become familiar with the types of questions on the Gifted Center admissions test, please click the button below to download some free practice questions.

Classical Schools Admissions Test

In order to be considered for acceptance to any of the five Classical Schools, students must meet certain enrollment requirements and criteria. These include:

     Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools (SEES) application

     Entrance exam

     Admission testing

All students that are in grades K-4 will be tested for admission when they are applying.

The exam for the Classical school is quite different than the one for the Regional Gifted Program. It is more of a traditional achievement test based on tests such as Illinois Standards Achievement Test (ISAT), Woodcock Johnson III Tests of Achievement and the ITBS or Iowa Test of Basic Skills. Students who are in fifth through eighth grades at the time of application are eligible based on the results from their Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress, or NWEA MAP, scores in reading and math. They must score above the 60th percentile in both of these subjects in order to be considered.

Admissions Test for the Academic Centers

Academic Centers in the CPS system are for students in grades 7 and 8. Admission into one of these programs guarantees a spot in the high school in which the Academic Center is located. The programs can be found in: Harlan High School, Kenwood Academy, Lane Tech High School, Lindblom Math and Science Academy, Morgan Park High School, Taft High School and Whitney Young Magnet High School.

In order to gain entry into one of the Academic Centers, admissions considers students’ grades and test scores in 5th grade as well on an admission test that is taken during 6th grade. The admissions test is not a traditional test, such as the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT), but assesses logical thinking and problem-solving skills.  

International Gifted Program Admissions Test

Another test that students may be administered in CPS is the International Gifted Programs test, which is given to students looking to enter in grades 6-8. In order to qualify for this exam, students must have scored at or above the 90th percentile in either reading or math on their ISAT exam, and then at or above the 80th percentile on the other subject. This International Gifted Programs test measures students’ verbal, abstract, and quantitative reasoning skills. It is a multiple-choice test that is administered by a proctor.

Education is nothing to be taken lightly, especially for parents who are trying to ensure their child receives the best there is available. Chicago Public Schools offers many different options for parents who are looking to take their child’s academics to the next level, and gifted and talented programs are just one of these. Whether it be applying for a coveted seat at one of the Regional Gifted Centers or a classical school, it is important to give your child the best chance possible. By helping them prepare for these admissions tests, parents are helping them prepare for the first step in their academic journey. 

How Can We Help?

At Origins Tutoring, we believe that preparation for any of Chicago’s gifted programs does not have to be daunting and exasperating; instead, it can represent an important opportunity along a student’s path to learning mastery. Indeed, the perspectives and abilities acquired during preparation provide a foundation that can last throughout a student’s school career and beyond.

Our two-track approach to mastering content and improving test-taking skills means that students will not only thoroughly understand the fundamental concepts and skills tested by the specific gifted test they will take, but they will also excel in using essential techniques to improve attitude, endurance and focus.

Our students hone their independent thinking skills while developing a resilient mindset so they can perform on test day in a powerful, resourceful, creative and calm manner. Each student in our program receives the undivided attention and expertise of a dynamic and experienced coach who provides the framework to support each student on his unique path to becoming a master learner. 

Please call 917.287.7927 now for a complimentary consultation to discuss how we can help your child achieve his or her personal best on a test that will help gain entry to one of CPS' gifted programs.