Selective Enrollment High School Profiles

Selective Enrollment High Schools offer an accelerated program to meet the needs of Chicago’s most academically advanced students. Attendance is free and enrollment is open to public and private Chicago students. There are 11 Selective Enrollment High Schools.

These schools are (in alphabetical order):

Competitive Intensity

In the most recent round of Selective Enrollment High School admissions (2016-2017), average scores rose 8 points as admissions scores recovered from the hammering they took the previous year, when CPS replaced the ISAT with the far more rigorous MAP as the 7th grade score component in the 900 point admissions formula as shown in Figure 1.

The use of a tougher 7th grade test has increased the dispersion between average admissions scores at the most competitive school, Payton (875) and the least competitive school, King (658) to a gaping 217 points. A hole of this magnitude means that students are being admitted to the Selective Enrollment system with dramatically different academic backgrounds.

Many admissions scores are still well below the levels of 2014-2015, the last year the ISAT was used. Average scores at the more competitive schools have recovered most of the ground they lost from their “pre-MAP level” to an average of 11 points less, while less competitive schools are still down nearly 40 points from their “pre-MAP” level as shown in Figure 2.

Wide Gaps between Tier Admissions Scores

For the past seven years, CPS has been using a socio-economic Tier system to select students for all of its selective admissions schools. Currently, thirty percent of seats are allocated to students with the highest academic performance citywide — regardless of their “socio-economic status”. The remaining seventy percent are allocated to each of four socio-economic Tiers, with each Tier receiving 17.5%. Students compete for this portion based on their academic performance in comparison with other students in their Tier.

Use of the Tier system has led to significant gaps in the academic achievement required for admissions between students from different parts of the City of Chicago. There is a particularly large gap between admissions scores of Tier 4 (the highest socio-economic Tier) and Tier 1 (the lowest socio-economic Tier) — for the more competitive schools.

Northside and Payton continue to be the most competitive Selective Enrollment High Schools. Virtually perfect scores are needed to get in at the Rank, Tier 3 and Tier 4 levels.

Use of the MAP test has exposed stark disparities in the academic levels of students admitted from different Tiers. MAP test scores of Tier 1 students at the more competitive schools continue to lag — creating enormous gaps in the cut-off scores scores required for admissions. Tier 4 students at the top schools need about 100 more points on average than Tier 1 students to get into the more competitive schools. For example, Tier 4 students needed 133 points more than Tier 1 students to be admitted to Lane Tech and 128 points more to get into Northside.

Use of the MAP test has also meant that there are fewer students with perfect 900 scores in the admissions process — leading to a slight but persistent decline in Tier 4 scores at the most competitive schools. In addition, scores at the high end are less bunched so motivated students have a greater potential to differentiate themselves with this more rigorous test.

In the most recent round of admissions, Jones solidified its number three position, moving ahead of Young. This trend began two years ago and has continued into 2016-2017, with Jones moving from a tie with Young to being ahead by a comfortable lead of 12 points.

Academics-ACT Scores

The ACT is the most widely used college admissions test, so its scores are a useful guide for comparing high school academic performance. The test contains four sections: English, Mathematics, Reading, and Science, a composite score is the average of these sections. The score of any of these sections and the composite range from 1 to 36.

Selective Enrollment High School students achieved an average composite score of 24.5 (approximately 75th percentile nationally) in 2015. This compares to an Illinois State average of 20.3 (53rd percentile nationally) and a CPS average of 18.6 (approximately 40th percentile nationally). Average school scores varied significantly from 17.7 (35th percentile nationally) at South Shore to 30.1 at Payton (about 95th percentile nationally).

Top Ranking Selective Enrollment High Schools (2016)

2016 National Rank
US News & World Report
2016 Illinois State Rank
US News & World Report
39 1 Northside
41 2 Payton
120 3 Whitney Young
130 4 Jones
172 6 Lane Tech
272 9 Lindblom
585 20 Brooks
1,181 46 Westinghouse
2,151 87 King

While each Selective Enrollment school offers a unique program, there are common threads, including exceptional academics and a wide range of sports and extracurricular activities. All Selective Enrollment High Schools offer an extensive selection of Honors and Advanced Placement courses. Specific academic features include:

  • Colloquia (or seminars). A number of Selective Enrollment High Schools offer colloquia or specialized seminars that allow students to explore interests that range above and beyond the standard high school curriculum.
  • International Orientation. Selective Enrollment High Schools have an international flavor. In addition to numerous ethnic clubs, Selective Enrollment students can choose from a half dozen foreign languages, with one or more Far East languages being standard fare.
  • Block Scheduling. A number of Selective Enrollment High Schools use college-like block scheduling, where classes last twice the length of a typical high school class, but meet only twice a week.
  • Integrated Math/Science Curricula. Selective Enrollment High Schools have taken the lead in re-orienting the “traditional” science sequence, putting physics first – since it leads to insights in chemistry, and moving up chemistry to provide a background for biology. Several schools use the Interactive Mathematics Program which emphasizes integration between different disciplines and greater investigation.
  • Academic competitions. A number of Selective Enrollment High Schools have successfully competed at the state and national level in academic competitions, including the Academic Decathlon, and mathematics and entrepreneurial competitions.

Many Selective Enrollment High School graduates attend elite colleges. Indeed, they are among the high school graduates most coveted by these colleges.