Dismal D.C. public school standardized test scores with some bright spots

Yesterday, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released the results of D.C. public school’s second year of PARCC standardized test results.  There is special significance for these scores in 2016 since, after a 12-month hiatus, charters will now once again be tiered utilizing the Performance Management Framework and DCPS staff will be evaluated on these results as part of their IMPACT system.

So here we go.  For elementary schools, and we will focus on these findings since students are tested in grades three through eight and only once in high school, the overall proficiency rate for those prepared for college and ready to go on to the next grade, meaning those that rated a four or five on the exam, in English Language Arts is 27 percent.  For math the number is 25 percent.  If you are interested as I am in the achievement gap between white kids and those that are economically disadvantaged the variance is about 55 percent, which while huge, believe it or not, is a decrease from 2015.  Charters posted about a two percent overall increase in reading and math compared to DCPS, but please keep in mind that these schools serve a greater proportion of low-income students and fewer white pupils compared to the regular schools.

The numbers have gone up a couple of points from last year for almost all categories of students.   The only real drop in the proficiency rate was for white students in English of 4.8 percent, which the Washington Post’s Perry Stein explains is attributable to a substantial decline at Wilson High School.  Students there had a proficiency rate of 50 percent last year which went to 21 percent in 2016.  The reason for the change is unknown.  However, white charter school students also experienced a substantial decline in English.

Now for some positives.  Many charters scored above the state average.  There are too many to mention specifically so I’ve included the list here.  I’m especially impressed with some of the DC Prep and KIPP DC campuses, as well as numerous language immersion schools.  For example, DC Prep at Edgewood Street is at 56 percent proficient in English and 69 percent in math, while Washington Yu Ying is at 51 percent and 59 percent proficiency for English and math, respectively.

In addition, many charters saw strong growth from last year.  Here again KIPP DC dominates this category but there are also many Friendship PCS campuses singled out.  For example, Friendship’s Chamberlain Elementary School experienced an 18 percent increase in English and a 15 percent jump in math.

For DCPS, the School Without Walls and Benjamin Banneker High School, both student application schools, had the highest results.  But the traditional schools also showed some impressive gains, with 29 posting upticks in both reading and math.  For example, Beers Elementary School went up 11.9 percent in English and 9.5 percent in math, and School-Within-School Elementary saw English results increase 19.7 percent and math improve by 6.9 percent.

Still,there’s an extremely far way to go and many of these scores point to the fact that reform really needs to move into high gear.  If the theme of the week is collaboration between the two sectors, let’s find out what the schools that did well are doing and copy it.  Immediately.




D.C. Charter board correctly decides not to tier schools for 2015

With all of the goings on in the world today it may have escaped followers of our local charter school movement that for the first time in four years the DC Public Charter School Board has elected not to tier its schools based upon results of the Performance Management Framework.

This is exactly the right decision.

As you may recall, in reaction to the change in the annual standardized test assessment from the DC CAS to the PARCC, together with the adoption of the common core standards, 20 school leaders sent a letter to the PCSB requesting that in the face of these initiatives tiering be waived for a year.  One of the individuals signing the letter was Jennie Niles, the Deputy Mayor for Education, in her previous role as executive director and founder of E.L. Haynes PCS.  The letter was also sent with the knowledge that DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson had earlier moved to not use 2015 PARCC results as part of the IMPACT teacher evaluation tool as her system acclimated to the new examination.

The board refused to budge, and stated emphatically that tiering would continue for the 2014 to 2015 term.  I argued strongly that this decision should be reversed.

So what is different now?  Apparently at the August meeting of the board an amendment was adopted to the 2015 PMF guidelines that consolidated early childhood, elementary school, and middle schools scoring into one grade.  In the past, charters received separate PMF’s for these groupings.   The modification made comparison to previous report cards impossible.  Therefore, the PCSB ruled at its December 2015 meeting to hold schools harmless for 12 months while simultaneously coming to the conclusion that high schools should also not be tiered to avoid some charters getting a ranking while others did not.

My only comment on all of this is that it would have been much simpler, and removed a great deal of stress for school leaders, if the PCSB had simply followed Ms. Henderson’s lead in the face of students taking the new PARCC examination.


PARCC scores offer rare opportunity for school sectors to unite

Yesterday, from a Washington Post article on the release of PARCC standardized test scores by Michael Allison Chandler:

“According to OSSE, 7 percent of charter school students who took the high school Math test and 23 percent of those who took the high school English test scored proficient, compared with 12 and 27 percent of D.C. Public School students respectively.”

Could it be that after years of the local charters promoting themselves as achieving higher academic performance than the traditional schools that the two are sectors are actually at about the same level?  If this is true then we now entering the next revolutionary phase in public school reform in the District of Columbia.

I’m sure educators across the city are scrambling to figure out how to implement the Common Core Standards better and faster.  And if this too is indeed the case, then everyone in both the charters and DCPS should be trying to get to the same point together.  Furthermore, with the pending re-authorization of the Opportunity Scholarship Program private schools accepting children utilizing vouchers will also have to administer the PARCC examination.  Therefore, these institutions as well should join the effort to drive academic improvement.  It could become the definition of the three-sector approach.

This all makes for a truly exciting time.

I am so proud of our education leaders.  There has not been one word about dropping the new standards, changing the test, or lowering the bar for what counts as proficient.  Instead, both DCPS Chancellor Henderson and DC Public Charter School Board executive director Scott Pearson have explained that the results are a new starting point on the way to excellence for our students.

This is indeed what we have to do if we want our children to be able to compete for jobs with kids around the world.

As far as charters go, over the last almost 20 years, this movement has always risen to heroically meet whatever challenge has been placed in front of them.  I have no doubt that they will once again lift their students to levels of attainment not seen anywhere else across the country.

Disheartening standardized test score results

Yesterday, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education released the first high school results of the PARCC assessment used to measure student proficiency based upon the Common Core Standards.  In the District, only 10 percent of students demonstrated that they have mastered the skills that would lead to success in college in math; that number is at 25 percent for English.  The last time the DC CAS was utilized to gauge proficiency the statistic for each subject area was at around 50 percent.

The results were staggering for our Performance Management Framework Tier 1 charter high schools.  Here are the proficiency scores with the 2014 DC CAS percentages for math and reading in parentheses.  Capital City PCS Upper School, 33 percent (54.9 percent, 52.8 percent); Cesar Chavez PCS Parkside Campus, 8 percent (72.8 percent, 50 percent); KIPP DC PCS College Preparatory Campus, 18 percent (95.4 percent, 71.0 percent); SEED PCS, 64 percent (62.9 percent, 38.2 percent); Thurgood Marshall Academy PCS, 57 percent (84.4 percent, 69.8 percent); and Washington Latin PCS Upper School, 63 percent (70.2 percent, 62.7 percent).

It will be most interesting to see how the PCSB handles these results when it comes to the PMF tiering.  Now, its seems that the board should have listened to the over 20 high performing charter school leaders who had requested that schools not be ranked in 2015 due to the use of the PARCC assessment for the inaugural year.  Yesterday, the PCSB said that the PMF measure would be released in January; usually these documents are made public in November.

In carefully constructed press releases both OSSE and the PCSB described the standardized test score results as a start on the way to the future academic progress of our students.  Of course, this is true and anyone who follows public education knew that these scores would be much lower that those in the past.  Still, it was not a good day in the District of Columbia.

States must be brave regarding Common Core test results

The use of the Common Core Standards has unfortunately been awash in political controversy for no reason whatsoever.  The standards, created out of an effort by the National Governors Association when Janet Napolitano was its chair, were developed to improve American students’ performance on the international PISA examination in which they traditionally scored poorly.  In addition, the standards are seen as a way to eliminate a major problem with the No Child Left Behind law in which proficiency in math and reading are defined at contrasting academic levels in different states.

The Common Core became a sore subject once Arne Duncan’s Education Department made their voluntary adoption a carrot toward winning money in the billion dollar Race to the Top Competition and in being awarded waivers to NCLB.

The result is that several states that accepted the Common Core have now rejected them, and Republican candidates for President have made it a badge of honor to see how derogatory they can be about the standards.  This is a horrible turn of events.

In addition, we hear today from the Washington Post’s Emma Brown that at least two states, Ohio and  Arkansas, have diluted the definition of proficiency on the PARCC, one of two examinations that measure student performance utilizing the Common Core.  For example, in Arkansas, Ms. Brown explains, the state made proficiency in Algebra 1 a score of a three, while the representatives of PARCC assert that success is college is likely if pupils rate a four.  The difference means that Arkansas classifies 60 percent of its kids as proficient in Algebra 1, when only 28 percent of its students would have been seen as proficient under the PARCC’s guidelines.

The same problem exists with ninth grade English proficiency.  The state reports that 64 percent of students have reached this level; PARCC believes the real number is 36 percent.

The matter is critically important as more scores are released across the nation.  It will become significant here in the nation’s capital as we learn the results of our own testing, findings that will drive charter school tiering on the DC Public Charter Board’s Performance Management Framework.

But the issue goes way beyond our own backyard.  The Common Core is the one opportunity, perhaps the last opportunity, for us to raise the bar regarding the expectations for the academic performance of all public school students.  We cannot let this chance disappear in the wind.

Education Secretary Duncan may have hurt education reform by trying to help

Following Mr. Duncan’s surprise announcement that he would be stepping down as the U.S. Education Secretary in December there has been an outpouring of compliments regarding his tenure by the education reform community.  Here are a few:

“We applaud Secretary Duncan for his leadership on behalf of all the nation’s students and schools. Duncan placed a priority on working to ensure equity for all students, advanced innovation in education, and has been committed to ensuring students from all backgrounds have access to high quality public schools.”  Nina Rees, president and CEO of the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools

“Arne Duncan is the most consequential Education Secretary in our nation’s history.  He has consistently and courageously stood for students, especially those least advantaged.  Arne has been a true partner in our efforts to improve public education in Washington, DC, and we’ll be forever indebted to his efforts.”  Scott Pearson, executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board

“@ArneDuncan has been the most important Secretary of Ed in history.  Thank you for your work over the past 7 years.”  Tweet by Eva Moskowitz, founder and CEO Success Academy Charter Schools.

But here is the problem.  Mr. Duncan primarily utilized two tools at his disposal to drive change in public education.  The Education Secretary gave points toward his $4.3 billion Race to the Top Competition and waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act by having states implement certain policies.  Among these included the creation of charter schools; the tying of teacher evaluations partially to test scores; and the improvement of academically low performing schools, which often led to the ending of teacher tenure.  The favored reforms also included adoption of the Common Core Standards. 42 states and the District of Columbia have signed up for the Common Core.

The Common Core Standards are the hope of many that it will lead to gains by American students on the international PISA examination; a test in which pupils of this country have traditionally scored well below those of most other countries.  Common Core is also a solution to a major weakness of NCLB.  When it came to accessing proficiency in math and reading, states ended up using a variety of measures and in many instances students were judged proficient in these subjects when this was not the finding of the NAEP examination, a tool often referred to at the nation’s report card.

But because Mr. Duncan strongly encouraged states to convert to the Common Core, republicans and libertarians often view it as part of a government takeover of public education, a policy area most often left up to local communities.  The backlash against the Standards has been particularly strong.  For example, there is only one candidate for the Republican nomination for President that currently supports use of this tool.  There are also plenty of Democrats that dislike it for the same reason.

It could be that the opposition to the Common Core results in states turning away from these standards, just as Indiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Louisiana have already done.  This move may gain momentum as student test scores begin to come out which, if the most current experience holds true, will be lower than results in previous years.  Rejection of the Common Core Standards would be a tremendous loss.  This may also be the final legacy of the Duncan Administration.