Admission into Proviso Math and Science Academy is a “black box” shrouded in mystery, which district parents don’t understand, said board members of Proviso Township High School District 209 at a meeting on Sept. 9. Board members said they couldn’t answer questions from district parents about how the selective school’s admission process worked. They asked for more transparency and an explanation of the process at an upcoming Committee of the Whole meeting.
“[Getting into PMSA] has always been a process with a political perception in Proviso,” said board member Brian Cross. “I have people tell me, ‘It’s gotta be a fix.'”
Board member Kevin McDermott said he wanted more transparency. He said parents were confused when one child was admitted and a sibling with similar test scores was not. “The cutoff seems to change from year to year and the admission process appears to be a black box,” McDermott said.
The school’s admittance formula was developed by former PMSA Principal Ed Moyer, who went on to be the district’s executive director of assessment and planning. Moyer is no longer at the district.
According to educational consultant Leslie Wilson, the admission formula combines scores from the eighth grade Explore test, the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test, a school test, and an essay. The scores are weighted by computer, using a confidential rubric. Applicants also pay a non-refundable $100 deposit.
But PMSA Principal Bessie Karvelas said the admission criteria slides based on the number of students applying and the range of their scores.
“The scoring of different components can change, depending on each group of students. Every year, the quotient changes,” Karvelas said. “There are many things that go into the decision.”
She noted that the school secretary, who “has been here since the beginning” has the best understanding of the criteria. She is the person who explains to disappointed parents why their child did not get in.
“Historically parents who had an issue with their students not getting in would call the office, and Mrs. Redmond would explain to them why the child wouldn’t make it into the school.”
“Do you think we can have her come here and explain it to us?” asked McDermott.
PMSA Asst. Principal William Breisch said the information for each applicant was loaded into a Filemaker Pro database that spit out the quotient score. “Our IT department helps us,” he said.
McDermott, who is a computer programmer by trade, asked if he could examine the code, to which Supt. Nellie Collins-Hart agreed. McDermott pointed out that Chicago selective high schools published their scoring formula on the CPS website, along with the weights of each score.
“Would it reasonable for us to publish the weights?” he asked.
Board member Ned Wagner pointed out that the PMSA schedule did not release decisions until after private schools had already asked for deposits, which causes stress on families.
“You’re right up against the deadlines when they apply to other schools,” he said. “They make the deposit and lose that money. If they could find out earlier, it could be easier for the parents.”
Wilson said she doubted the schedule could be changed. She defended the PMSA deposit. “I look at that $100 as an investment,” she said. “It’s just like applying for college or an admission fee in private schools.”
The board asked that they be given a report and a demonstration of how the admission program worked at a to-be-scheduled Committee of the Whole meeting, using student data that was not identifiable.
Wagner suggested meeting should be in open session. “We’d love to share this with the community. They would be invited,” he said.
“I think a little more transparency would help us,” said Cross. “I’d like to be able to explain to constituents why their son or daughter didn’t get in.”