What is a Classical School? Chicago's Classical Schools Completely Explained

 decatur is one of chicago's classical schools

decatur is one of chicago's classical schools

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is an urban district that serves close to 400,000 students of diverse backgrounds and abilities. It has almost 500 elementary schools in its borders and this includes five specialty schools as well as the traditional neighborhood schools. The five specialty schools that can be found in the CPS system are gifted, classical, magnet, magnet cluster, and charter.

So, you might be wondering, what is a classical school? Look no further to answer this question as this article will fill you in about this unique feature of the CPS system, including the classical school's challenging admissions test.

What Is a Classical School?

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.

Classical Schools are unique in their instruction as the curriculum is one full grade level above the student’s normal grade. The structure is highly rigorous and there are many enrichment opportunities including chances for problem solving, critical thinking, and all classical schools even feature brand new science labs.

The Classical Schools begin with full-day kindergarten and continue through the elementary school grades. Decatur, McDade, and Poe serve students until the sixth grade, whereas Skinner West and Skinner North continue serving students up until the eighth grade.

Who Can Attend a Classical School? What Are The Odds Of Getting In?

There are no attendance boundaries for these Classical Schools, which means that students from all across the city may apply. While this is beneficial, it also increases the number of applications and makes the selection process that much more competitive in nature. For example, in recent years, the district has received over 10,000 applications for less than 2000 seats in gifted and classical schools.

For a chance to be considered for any of the five classical schools in the CPS system, students must meet specific enrollment requirements. This criteria includes the Selective Enrollment Elementary Schools application, the entrance exam, as well as admission testing. All students that are in grades K-4 will be tested for admission when they are applying.

Students who are in grades 5-8 at the time of application will be eligible for testing based on their Northwest Evaluation Association Measures of Academic Progress, or NWEA MAP, scores in reading and math. In order to be eligible for testing, students in the general education setting or students that have a 504 Plan must score at or above the 60th percentile in both reading and math. Students that have an Individual Education Plan (IEP) must have scores at or above the 50th percentile in one of the subjects of reading or math, and then at or above the 40th percentile in the other subject.

Content and Format of the Classical Schools’ Admissions Exam

While CPS doesn't explicitly reveal what items are on the Classical test, they do explain the problem types that your child might encounter. The Classical test is based on your child’s achievement and focuses on their abilities in reading, language, and math. It contains a mixture of sections, including:

●    Literacy
* Reading Comprehension
* Vocabulary
* Writing Mechanics
* Written Expression


●    Math
*  Word Problems
*  Computation

You can expect any or all of these sections to be administered on test day, so it is beneficial to prepare your child for all of these topics.

The Classical school’s test is administered in a whole group setting and takes approximately an hour to administer and complete. It is a multiple-choice test and students must bubble in their own answers with a pencil on the provided answer sheet.

While the specific test is kept secret by CPS, it has been recommended that the best way to help your child prepare is to look at practice questions from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS). This test covers a variety of problem types and includes many sample questions that are utilized on various standardized tests across the country. It will be beneficial for your child to become familiar with the specific layout and vocabulary on this standardized test, as well as practice filling in bubbles. By increasing familiarity to similar content, it will increase your child’s comfort as well as confidence when the actual testing day arrives.

With so many various types of schools, not to mention the sheer volume of students the district serves, it is no wonder that parents have a hard time figuring out what the best option is for their child. The five Classical Schools in the CPS district provide a highly enriched, and rigorous, curriculum for advanced and gifted students, and have proven their status as elite and competitive schools. Many parents also elect to have their children take the test for one of the Regional Gifted Centers, which also offers an exemplary education.

In this article, we have answered the question “What is a Classical School?”, providing information on curriculum, admissions, and the challenging entrance exam. Please learn more about Chicago Public School’s Gifted Programs, and gain access to sample questions from the admissions test for the Gifted Regional Centers.