Walter Payton College Preparatory High School

Contact Information

Principal: Tim Devine
Admissions Director: D’Andre Weaver
Phone: 773-534-0034
Web site:
Address: 1034 North Wells Street, Chicago, IL 60610
Freshman class size: 210
Total enrollment: 868 (grades 9 – 12)


Like the average scores of other Selective Enrollment High Schools, the average score at Payton College Prep declined last year. It fell from 888 to 879, down 9 points. For the first time, CPS used the tougher MAP test for the 7th grade standardized test in its admissions formula and this caused the score decline. The score decline at Payton was triggered by a decrease in Tier 1 average admissions scores (down 31 points) while average scores for higher Tiers fell modestly. Average Tier 4 scores fell only 4 points.

For the past six years, CPS has been using a socioeconomic 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 “socioeconomic status”. The remaining seventy percent are allocated to each of four socioeconomic Tiers, with each Tier receiving 17.5%. Students compete for this portion based 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 socioeconomic Tier) and Tier 1 (the lowest socioeconomic Tier) – in the more competitive schools.

In the most recent admissions year, there was a 54 point gap between the average score of an admitted Payton Tier 4 and Tier 1 student. This gap has doubled as Tier 4 scores remain near a perfect 900 point level and Tier 1 scores fell.

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In the most recent round of admissions the gap between cut-off scores of an admitted Tier 4 and Tier 1 student rose to 107 points as shown in Figure 3 — again as Tier 4 scores remained high and Tier 1 scores fell sharply.


In July 2011, Tim Devine became Payton’s Principal. Prior to becoming Principal at Payton, Devine taught Social Studies for 12 years at Northside College Prep, where he became the Social Studies Department Head and also won a Golden Apple for his teaching prowess.

Walter Payton College Prep opened its doors in the fall of 2000. Payton’s motto is “We Nurture Leaders”. To encourage leadership among its students, Payton has established two mentoring systems – Payton Advisory Leaders (PALS) for juniors who want to guide freshmen; and Best Buddies, for students who assist special needs students.

Payton offers a technology rich environment. Students have access to smart desks (e.g., with both data and electrical outlets) in every classroom, a World Language Lab, a Distance Learning Lab, and various computer and science centers. The mathematics department uses a range of computer software in its curriculum to provide students with a hands-on application of quantitative concepts. College credit courses are available through partnerships with area schools. Payton uses block or modified scheduling with its longer class sessions to allow for the deeper exploration of topics. Academic highlights:

  • Math Team: In 2004, after only four years in existence, Payton became the first Chicago Public High School ever to win a state math championship, beating the University of Chicago Laboratory School. Payton has since moved up divisions and now competes against larger schools but has nevertheless maintained its winning record, taking the state title in 2005 and 2006 and the city title in 2007. In 2007, Payton scored among the top 60 schools in the country in the American Mathematics Competition. In 2011, Payton was 6th in the State of Illinois.

In addition to fielding a top ranked Math Team, Payton has established a Saturday afternoon math enrichment program, Payton Citywide Math Circle, to provide Chicago students with exposure to challenging topics that are outside the standard mathematics curriculum.

  • Seminar Program: Payton students can choose from over 50 seminars including athletic oriented offers (e.g., badminton, ballroom dance, climbing, fencing, jazz dance, line dancing, yoga, etc.), to cultural (e.g., cinema, drama, gospel choir, poetry, etc.) to intellectual (e.g., human behavior, short story writing, weird science, etc.). Students can even take “Explore Your Inner Geek” – an actual seminar offer. Seminars are taken on a pass/fail basis.
  • Distance Learning Center: Payton’s Distance Learning Center allows it to connect to a variety of institutions including museums, universities, hospitals and other schools. Past programs have included Live from the Heart (open-heart surgery as it was performed), Cooking Science (demonstration of truffle making), and a Virtual College Fair (virtual tours of colleges hosted by the college admissions director).
  • International Orientation: Payton has taken a number of steps to provide global exposure to its students. Payton has six sister schools, in China, Japan, Mexico, Morocco, Russia, and South Africa. Payton is a member of the Illinois International Career Academy, an organization designed by the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy to encourage a deeper appreciation of international issues and has been designated an Illinois International High School.

In September 2013, CPS announced that it was expanding Payton to add an additional 400 seats — meaning that 8th graders would be able to vie for up to an additional 100 seats. Construction is expected to be completed by the fall of 2016 in time for the fall school year.


Payton offers over 30 different clubs from academic clubs (e.g., Academic Decathlon, Debate Team, Math Team, National Honor Society, etc.) to cultural clubs (e.g., Art Attack, Anime and Japanese Culture, Music Production, Payton Players, Photography, etc.) to social service clubs (e.g., Animal Rights, Amnesty International, Best Buddies, Environmental Club, Model UN, etc.). Payton offers basketball, bowling, cross country, football, golf, soccer, softball, swimming, tennis, track and field, and volleyball.


Reading, Math and Science Proficiency (The Prairie State Achievement Exam), 2014

The performance of 11th graders on the PSAE (which includes the ACT) is used by the State of Illinois to assess reading, math, and science proficiency. In 2014, 51% of Illinois juniors met or exceeded standards in Reading and Math; while 49% met or exceeded standards in Science.

In 2014, 99% of Payton’s 11th graders met or exceeded standards in Reading, 99% met or exceeded standards in Math, and 98% met or exceeded standards in Science. In addition, an impressive percent exceeded standards in these areas – 64% in Reading, 52% in Math, and 60% in Science.

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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 2014. This compares to Payton’s 2014 composite of 29.1 (approximately 93rd percentile nationally) and Chicago’s 18.0 (36th percentile nationally), putting Payton significantly above both the District (City of Chicago) average and the national average

Performance on ACT College Readiness Benchmarks

The ACT organization has defined “College Readiness Benchmark Scores” — median test scores that are predictive of student “success” in the relevant college courses. ACT defines “success” as the probability of earning a B or better in the corresponding college coursework.

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In 2014, Payton’s average ACT scores exceeded all four “College Readiness Benchmark Scores” – average ACT scores for English (30.5 vs. the ACT Benchmark of 18), Reading (29.9 vs. the ACT Benchmark of 22), for Math (28.2 vs. the ACT Benchmark of 22), and Science (27.9 vs. the ACT Benchmark of 23).

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Trends in ACT Scores

From 2005 to 2014, Payton’s composite ACT score has inched up from 25.8 (82nd percentile) to 29.1 (93rd percentile) as shown below.

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Payton’s 2014 State of Illinois Ranking and National Ranking

  • 2014 State of Illinois Rank: 2 (US News & World Reports). In 2014, US News & World Reports ranked Payton 2nd in the State of Illinois, just behind Northside College Prep. US News & World Reports uses an assessment of college readiness including performance on the ACT and AP Exams.
  • 2014 National Rank:66(US News & World Reports). In 2014, US News & World Reports ranked Payton 66th in the nation, just slightly behind Northside, based on its assessment of Payton students’ college readiness in comparison to other high schools. This ranking is a dramatic improvement over where Payton stood several years ago – at 96th.

For additional academic information about Payton, click here for a state report card.