By now you’ve seen the headlines and read the stories: “One in 10 D.C. students score ‘college ready’ on new high school math test.” “Md. sees major drop on national test as state includes more student scores” (while the headline says Maryland, I promise it also includes a good overview of the District’s results).
I am hopeful that the release of PARCC results will not renew calls for states to withdraw from the test. It’s difficult to accept that our educational systems are not preparing our students for college and careers, but it’s a truth that we need to acknowledge and work hard to correct. I agree that we spend too much time in our schools testing and preparing for tests; eliminating the PARCC is not the solution to that problem.
This is the first year of the new PARCC assessment and the State Board of Education just a few weeks ago voted unanimously to set a high bar. The Board set the bar at a Level 4, meaning that students “met expectations” and are ready for college or the workforce without remedial education. As anticipated, the scores on the PARCC exam are far lower than recent scores on the DC CAS, the District’s previous standardized test. (Here are a couple of resources to help you understand the PARCC: FAQs from Families, Parent Guide to Understanding Student Score Reports).
Across the District, across both DC Public Schools and public charter schools, only 25% of high school students met or exceeded expectations (scored at a level 4 or 5) in English II on the PARCC. In Math, only 10% of students met or exceeded expectations (click here to download the test results). And, as we dig deeper, the PARCC results are even more troubling. The achievement gap is immense. On the English test, only 17% of students who are “economically disadvantaged,” 20% of Black students, and 25% of Hispanic students met or exceeded expectations while 82% of white students met or exceeded expectations. And, further, just weeks after we celebrated a surge in our city’s graduation rate (DCPS release here), we find that at several of our city’s high schools no students met expectations on the PARCC in Math and very few met that threshold in English.
It’s clear that we have a lot of work to do. I want to commend Chancellor Henderson for her statement on the PARCC results, explaining the test and acknowledging that the “PARCC results show us that we still have work to do to make sure all children are prepared for the future.” I also support the sentiments of DC Public Charter School Board executive director Scott Pearson, though I caution that we must not lower standards and “look at all levels, particularly level 3” as we evaluate our schools. We owe our students more than ensuring that they are merely “approaching” career and college readiness. It is our duty to meet that threshold.
As the Washington Post concludes about the District’s scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) that was released earlier today, “the District offered a bright spot in the otherwise bleak results, as one of just two jurisdictions that posted gains on two tests. Fourth-graders in the District made significant strides, climbing three points on the national math test and seven points on the reading test. Scores for eighth-graders, which saw a bump in 2013, stayed relatively flat in 2015.” This marks the second time in a row that the city has stood out for its improvement on the NAEP.
Despite the growth and positive coverage (here is DCPS’s statement and here is the DC Public Charter School Board statement), the NEAP assessment also reveals several troubling realities that we can no longer look past. It’s true that the District’s 4th grade reading scores have improved considerably and faster than any other state in the nation. However, we must also consider where we started. In 1998, only 11% of District students were proficient. Today, 27% of our city’s 4th graders are reading proficiently. This is certainly progress, but we should not be congratulating ourselves when 3 out of 4 students are not proficient readers by the end of 4th grade. The District’s NAEP scores places us higher than only one state and places us squarely in the middle of the pack relative to other large cities (which I’d consider a truer comparison). While we should applaud our city for its progress, average is not enough especially in light of tough and persistent achievement gaps.
Diving further into the NAEP / Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) results, we find:
- In 2015, Black students had an average score that was 60 points lower than that for White students. This performance gap was not significantly different from that in 2002 (60 points).
- In 2015, Hispanic students had an average score that was 55 points lower than that for White students. This performance gap was not significantly different from that in 2002 (55 points).
- In 2015, students who were eligible for free/reduced-price school lunch, an indicator of low family income, had an average score that was 58 points lower than that for students who were not eligible. This performance gap was wider than that in 2002 (25 points).
In other words, across all subgroups we’ve seen little to no improvement since 2002 and in cases of those living in poverty the achievement gap has grown. Considering the demographic changes that our city has seen that may account for some of the District’s overall growth, I do not believe that NAEP scores are something that we should be celebrating but rather something that should be setting off alarms for our city’s leaders.
Here are the various NAEP reports:
And, for the Trial Urban District Snapshots:
I hope to see you at these important hearings next week.
DGS/DCPS School Modernization Oversight Roundtable
Monday, November 2 at 11:00 AM, Room 412 of the Wilson Building
The Council's Education Committee has announced a Roundtable on school modernization. For details, click here.
DCPS FY2017 Budget Hearing
Wednesday, Nov 4. 6:00 PM at Stuart-Hobson MS
The District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) will convene a public hearing to gather feedback from the public about the upcoming Fiscal Year 2017 budget. For details, click here.