Academic Center Profiles

Some of the Chicago Public Schools’ best kept secrets are its Academic Centers. These are middle schools that offer accelerated programs for 7th and 8th graders and a guaranteed path into their associated high school. These schools are (in alphabetical order):

Academic Centers offer increased academic challenge, the opportunity to earn early high school credits, and a path towards an excellent high school.

Competitive Intensity

Many parents are relatively unaware of Academic Centers. Since most elementary schools run through 8th grade, school counselors may not proactively provide parents with information about Academic Centers and the Academic Center admissions process. Additionally, CPS generated information is sparse.

This situation is changing as parents increasingly seek out advanced programs. Competition for a seat at the best Academic Center (Whitney Young) is already fierce. Each year over 1,200 students apply for Whitney Young’s 120 seats, so less than 10% are accepted. For 2016-2017, the average score of an admitted Whitney Young student was 869 on the 900 point admission scale — a sky high number.

Lane Tech, a newer Academic Center, continues to close in on the most competitive Academic Center, Whitney Young. Composite Whitney Young scores for 2016-2017 were 25 points higher than those for Lane Tech. For Tier 4 applicants, the difference was only 9 points. Tier 4 students with scores in the top percentages are increasingly choosing Lane Tech. However, Lane Tech’s average score continues to be pulled down by scores for Tier 1 students. Average Lane Tech Tier 1 scores were 771 in comparison to average Whitney Young Tier 1 scores of 829 — pulling down the overall Lane Tech average.

In the most recent round of admissions (2016-2017), average scores recovered at the most competitive Academic Center as scores bounced back from last year’s slippage. Competition for spots at the two top Academic Centers, Whitney Young intensified as scores rose across all of the Tiers. there was a particularly noticeable squeeze at Lane Tech where there was only a 6-point difference in the minimum score (864) and maximum score (870) of an accepted Tier 4 student.

In the prior year, CPS used the more rigorous Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test as the 5th grade standardized test. This is the first time that CPS has used a Common Core aligned test in the Academic Center admissions process. The MAP accounted for 300 points of CPS’ 900 point admissions scale.

Enormous gaps between cut-off score of Tier 4 and Tier 1 students persisted, with students from Tier 4 neighborhoods needing 274 points more to get into Taft, 124 points to get into Lane Tech and 74 more points to get into Young as shown below in Figure 2.

North side Academic Centers (e.g., Lane Tech and Taft), located in areas far from most Tier 1 students, continue to have difficulty finding qualified Tier 1 applicants — so they must dig deeply into the Tier 1 applicant pool. This can be seen in the spread within each Tier. For example, at Lane Tech as discussed there was only an 6-point difference between the highest (870) and lowest (864) Tier 4 score, meaning that all of these students were equally qualified. However, there was an 86-point difference between Lane’s highest (826) and lowest (740) Tier 1 score. Similarly at Taft, there was a 139-point difference between the highest and lowest Tier 1 students accepted. This indicates that the top Tier 1 student was much more qualified than the lowest Tier 1 student.

This past year (2016-2017), CPS finally decided to close the struggling Academic Center at Harlan Community Academy and open a new one at Brooks, a well-regarded Selective Enrollment High School on the south side. In its first year, Brooks admissions scores averaged 720 points, an underwhelming number, given the guaranteed path a Brooks Academic Center admissions provides to a Selective Enrollment High School.

At the same time, Morgan Park, another Academic Center on the south side continues to struggle to attract academically advanced students. Its  average score this year of 647 put it on the bottom of the Academic Center heap. Moreover, Morgan Park is still down 30 points from its “pre-MAP” score of 679 that it achieved  two years ago. Academic Centers are increasingly seen as 6 year programs with the high school component an important part of the student’s acceptance decision. Academic Centers associated with high schools that are perceived as weak (e.g., Morgan Park) have continued to flounder.


Standardized tests administered to middle school CPS students are in a state of flux. The ACT organization has phased out the EXPLORE test and transitioned to the Aspire test. The ISAT has been phased out in favor of the PARCC and MAP test. As a result, the most up-to-date method of tracking school academic performance is the PARCC test. The PARCC is designed to measure student readiness for the next grade level’s work and subsequent college and career readiness. PARCC results are also designed to track with ACT performance.

Since Academic Centers provide an accelerated academic curriculum and are aimed at advanced students, it would be expected that most students at these schools “meet standards”. A more important measure of their success is whether a significant portion of students at these schools exceed standards.

While nearly all of its students meet standards on the Math portion of the PARCC, in 2016 Whitney Young, Lane Tech and Kenwood had a healthy portion of 8th grade students who exceed standards in Math. In 2016, 20% of Whitney Young’s 8th graders exceeded standards, 53% of Lane Tech 8th graders, and 25% of Kenwood 8th graders exceeded math standards.

Since Academic Centers provide an accelerated academic curriculum and are aimed at advanced students, it would be expected that most students at these schools “meet standards”. A more important measure of their success is whether a significant portion of students at these schools exceed standards.

Similarly in 2016, 41% of Whitney Young Academic Center 8th graders exceeded standards and 27% of Lane Tech students exceeded standards on the English Language Arts portion of the PARCC. All students from these two schools met or exceeded standards.

Academic Centers are among the best schools in the State of Illinois. If your 6th grader is not being challenged in his/her current school, you should consider applying to an Academic Center.