Declines in DCPS test scores worry the District as it awaits the whole story
Two years of improving test scores among D.C. Public School students gave way to dismaying declines among elementary school students this year, who showed slipping rates of proficiency in math and reading. Middle and high school students made encouraging gains, but going forward, the news challenges D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's aggressive reforms of DCPS.
But ultimately, the information that will illustrate where exactly the gains and losses in District schools occurred won't surface for at least two weeks.
"The numbers speak for themselves. They're sad and quite dismaying," said Ted Trabue, the President of the D.C. State Board of Education. But Trabue added that information being made public in a few weeks, which will break down the test scores beyond the preliminary numbers available now, will be more telling of where problems lie in DCPS schools. For example, he explained, they may show that the scores of one grade level held back the entire elementary school category in test scores, or that test scores among high schoolers rose because weak students had dropped out of high school and a smaller group of stronger students took the tests. He described the figures released on Monday as "seeing the problem from 50,000 feet."
"Obviously, something went very wrong. The level in reading is very disturbing. But you don't know what drove the problem," he said. "The truth will lie in the details that will come out about two weeks from now ... Then we can have a more intelligent conversation."
Scores may shift for individual schools, too, as school administrators review the list of students whose scores are attributed to their schools. Last year, school admistrators raised concerns about over 80 students who were recorded as testing at their schools but did not in fact test there. "One score or two in a school can make the difference of meeting [Adequate Yearly Progress]," Tabue said.
All in all, the percentage of both elementary and secondary students who are proficient in reading and math is hovering around 44 percent. Since 2009, secondary school students (these can be either junior high schools or high schools) increased their reading scores by 3.2 percent and math scores by 4.1. percent, for a total of 14 percent and 17 percent gains in reading and math, respectively, over the last three years. Elementary school students' scores declined 4.4 percent in reading and 4.6 percent in math from 2009, for total gains of seven percent and 14 percent in reading and math since 2007. Charter school test scores, the Post reports, remained more or less "flat."
Many have said that the decline in elementary test scores hurts Mayor Adrian Fenty's education-centric reelection campaign—although the Washington Post's Bill Turque is confident that the mayor's office did the best it could to actually control the story.
Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh said she was optimistic despite the declines.
"Frankly, I was a little suprised, and a little disappointed," she said. "But over all, we're continuing in the right direction. There will be glitches, but we keep going forward."
"We don't want to see any retreat in scores but they're better than they were three years ago," At-Large Councilmember David Catania said, "and the middle school and high school numbers have improved."
Some have been less confidence, like Ward 2 DCBSOE member Mary Lord.
"It's a little disingenuous to take the 2007 number, connect it to the 2010 number and frame it as a gain, and not give people the intervening data," Lord told the Dish. "2008 is your starting benchmark."
In an email, she wrote, "2010 elementary reading scores for DCPS didn't just dip. They plummeted below 2008 scores, erasing most of the gains made under Chancellor Rhee's tenure. Three years of mayoral control and massive change, and we've moved to 44.4 percent of student proficient from 39 percent. For $750 million in public money, and a lot more in private funds, shouldn't we see higher return on our investment?"