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We're tied for no. 14! We're tied for no. 14!

If you live in or near a big city, check out my colleague Nick Anderson's intriguing news break, giving the latest rankings for math achievement among our best known urban districts. The big news for us Post people is that D.C. IS NO LONGER LAST IN THE NATION!! There is a good and a bad reason for this. The good reason is that our math achievement has grown significantly. The bad reason is that they added Detroit to the list this year, and nobody can beat Detroit for worst-run school district (and in recent years worst-run city) in America.

The report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the federally-run test that provides the most dependable measure of national and state achievement, shows that the gains in fourth and eighth grade math in the District began before D.C. School Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee arrived. We know there have been math gains also during her watch, but if I were she I would be careful not to celebrate this latest news too much.
I look at the D.C. math scores the same way I Iook at our football team, the Redskins. I have been a fan of the burgundy and gold since 1971, but they have been pitiful lately, and have a serious leadership problem. Sure, they are not the worst team in the NFL, but my prediction at the begining of the season of a 3-13 record, derided by many, is now looking pretty accurate as they sit at 3-9.
In 4th grade math, D.C. students appear to be tied for 14th with Milwaukee, out of 18 cities. Charlotte is first and Austin is second. In 8th grade math, we are tied for 16th, again with Milwaukee. Austin is first and Charlotte is second. Detroit is last in both categories.
In other words, we are heading in the right direction, but have a long way to go.

By Jay Mathews  | December 8, 2009; 12:44 PM ET
Categories:  Jay on the Web  | Tags:  D.C. math score gain, Michelle A. Rhee, National Assessment of Educational Progress, big city math scores  
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Next: Teachers who helped raise DC scores--please tell us how


Maybe your colleagues should proofread your posts before you publish them in what is now failing as one of the most reputable news sources in the country.

Posted by: crzytwnman | December 8, 2009 2:23 PM | Report abuse

Thanks, Jay, for starting out acknowledging that the scores have been rising long before Rhee got here and that they are still nothing to brag about.

Of course, you know if you hadn't, I would have called you on it so I feel I'm having a positive effect!

Posted by: efavorite | December 8, 2009 3:28 PM | Report abuse

While Jay might write this, Nick Anderson wrote this:
The report showed that the upward trend in the District began well before Rhee's arrival.
and this:
The report bolstered D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's argument that she has set the long-troubled school system on the right track.

Posted by: edlharris | December 8, 2009 4:19 PM | Report abuse

For efavorite: I live in fear of yr high standards for me.

For crzytwnman: No fair making such a comment without telling me what you are talking about. Where did I err?

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 8, 2009 5:10 PM | Report abuse

Wait, crzytwnman. I think I see what you mean. Will fix. Thank you.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 8, 2009 5:13 PM | Report abuse


I copied this from another post for your information:

I posted this on another blog. I am reposting it here:

Let's do the math:

4th grade
2000 – 192
2003 – 205
2005 – 211
2007 – 214
2009 – 219

8th grade
2000 – 235
+ 8
2003 – 243
2005 – 245
2007 – 248
2009 – 254

The increases go in this order:

4th grade 1) 2000 to 2003 2) 2003 to 2005 3) 2007 to 2009 4) 2005 to 2007

8th grade 1) 2000 to 2003 2)2007 to 2000 3) 2005 to 2007 4) 2003 to 2005

That means that the increases for 4th graders in 2009 are 3rd out of 4 places.

The increase for the 8th grade in 2009 are 2nd out of 4 places.

Hope this helps.

Posted by: aby1 | December 8, 2009 7:25 PM | Report abuse


Is it possible that someone can find the really party behind the increase in test scores and give them the credit?

Posted by: aby1 | December 8, 2009 8:51 PM | Report abuse

Maybe Nick Anderson could graph the changes in the NEAP along side the percentage of kids going to charters.

The graph might not be statistically rigorous but its potential entertainment value can't be denied.

Posted by: allenm1 | December 8, 2009 10:03 PM | Report abuse

Jay - just present the facts and don't spin them and everything will be fine.

I see your colleagues Turque and Anderson got front-page-above the-fold status for their coverage of the same story. Some headline too - "District leaps Forward in Math." I wonder how many people will bother to read a little ways down in the article to see that Rhee cannot take credit for this continuing advance (even though she does, of course, by direct quote in the article).

I also wonder what the headlines said about the increasing math scores in the pre-Rhee years. Maybe you can get a colleague at the Post to find out and let us know.

Here's a hot idea for an article for you -- interview some of those 4th and 8th grade teachers to find out exactly what they've been doing to cause this continuing improvement in math scores over the years. Look especially at vet teachers who have been around through several superintendent changes. They will have a good historical perspective.

Then find the right headline for this story and maybe it will make the front page.

Posted by: efavorite | December 9, 2009 8:42 AM | Report abuse

Posted by: efavorite | December 9, 2009 8:42 AM
Here's a hot idea for an article for you -- interview some of those 4th and 8th grade teachers to find out exactly what they've been doing to cause this continuing improvement in math scores over the years.
efavorite, Jay already answered this last fall 10/27/08
"They saw how teacher focus and energy could improve students' lives, and at the same time they learned how rare those traits were in low-income neighborhood schools."
He could repost the article.

And by the way, when Mrs. Rhee came onboard, her salary was to be $275,000 plus a $41,250 signing bonus.
And there might be possible performance bonus of $27,500.
Did she get this performance bonus??

(Oh, and a reminder about Teach For America and it's prez, the new Post pundit:
In all, Teach for America failed to account for half the money audited. Time and time again, the audit said there were no basic records or receipts: None for a $123,878 training expense; none for a $342,428 bill.

Teach for America vice president Kevin Huffman chalks it up to poor record keeping.

"We're confident, we're confident that we spent the money on the training of new teachers," Huffman said. [...]

They should have kept records on a tab for more than a quarter million dollars for food and lodging ($277,262) and $26,812 for teacher certification—but didn't. Auditors say there was no documentation that any teachers actually attended and completed the class, or that there even was a class.
TFA spends about $32,000 per teacher to train them.
The salaries of the teachers are covered by the districts that hire them.)

Posted by: edlharris | December 9, 2009 10:06 AM | Report abuse

Edlharris - while we usually agree, not this time! Jay should do an update, not a repost. But thanks for the link - I hadn't read that in a long time.

Here's my favorite line: "Rhee knows she could easily be fired, or forced to resign. But that would only confirm her view, shared by her friends, that much of public education in urban America is messed up and they must fix it however they can."

Spinning her exit even then. Let's see if this resurfaces when the time comes.

Posted by: efavorite | December 9, 2009 11:23 AM | Report abuse

Everything is eventual.

Posted by: DredScottFitzgerald | December 9, 2009 12:43 PM | Report abuse

efavorite, I was being sardonic.
However, that was the article I've been looking for where one of Mrs. Rhee's instruction strategies was to have the kids sit in a U-shape on the floor.
(Also, Mrs. Rhee had an aide with her. I don't know what it is like in DCPS, but one doesn't find classroom aides in PGCPS.)
(I should say I saw on the online PTA documents for Key Elementary, the school that feeds to Hardy, that the PTA pays for aides.)

Posted by: edlharris | December 9, 2009 1:36 PM | Report abuse

dc folks don't be fooled! this is all propaganda to get fenty reelected by the washington post. question: why is all this coming out now about test scores? answer: because people want to discourage others from running against fenty. believe me, if fenty is reelected somehow and for some mysterious reason dcps test scores will some how deflate. anyway, the test scores are probably bogus anyway. someone should check the erasures on the tests!

Posted by: stayone | December 9, 2009 3:07 PM | Report abuse

Edlharris - so was I

Stayone - this is a national test - no erasure problem here

Posted by: efavorite | December 9, 2009 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I think edlharris and efavorite and all of you, for that matter, should give me at least a little credit for my jaundiced view on the significance of the math score results. I try to be a good skeptic and still i get no love. I sympathize with efavorite because I also didn't realize edlharris was being sardonic. It is hard to get without hearing voice tone. I think the idea of finding out what those math teachers are doing is a good one, and was answered at least in part by our fine front page story today. I didn't know about the effectiveness of these game exercises. I will try to see if I can learn more about that. Maybe I will post something right now.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | December 9, 2009 4:56 PM | Report abuse

I have, and will always contend that a mathematics standardized test is an accurate measure of what a student knows and can do. You can build easily 'higher order thinking' into well constructed math multiple choice questions. The wrong answers themselves are fine judges of a students conceptual knowledge of the content, i.e. knowing what the answer 'should not be' before trying to find the 'right answer.'
My biggest contention against standardized tests is IF I AS A MATH TEACHER am doing my job CORRECTLY, I DO NOT NEED a standardized test to tell me what my students have, or have not learned. When you're giving students grade points for turning in their homework signed by a parent, or extra credit for attending a math-related field trip, it's real hard to trust the veracity of a student's grade. This is why partly that 70% of college freshmen in California fail math/language arts placement tests. As in sports, the video tape doesn't lie; for math, neither does the placement/standardized test.

Posted by: pdfordiii | December 9, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

The irony about Detroit...that the former Mayor Kilpatrick in-laws as in his mother-in-law and brother-in-law are or were DCPS employees. Hence, now the current Mayor Bing is a product of DCPS does one think that eventually the DCPS model will make-it to Motown. It is all good that Shaniquatina can do math but can she actually read the math problem when presented as an equation....hmmmmmmm?

Okay the DCPS student figures out that 2+2=4...but when it is presented as two gunshots plus 2 gunshots equals to how many were shot dead? And she answers correctly...then I am a true believer.

I am from the old school...just don't show me the answer show me the work.

Posted by: PowerandPride | December 9, 2009 5:33 PM | Report abuse

I'll give you credit, Jay.

I've found the Hardy/Pope/Rhee situation very vexing.

I look forward to some columns on the teaching situations in the classrooms. The coverage of classroom instruction is very weak in virtually all educational reporting. The poor reporter can't spend just one day in class and discover the keys to the universe.

Posted by: edlharris | December 9, 2009 6:13 PM | Report abuse

"I will try to see if I can learn more about that. Maybe I will post something right now."

That would be awesome, especially if you know something about how they teach math in the high poverty areas.

Posted by: aby1 | December 9, 2009 7:23 PM | Report abuse

Hey, Jay - I did compliment you, right up front. But I'll do it again, for emphasis - THANK YOU for not exaggerating or misrepresenting the importance of the NAEP math scores. I also have been sending people to your blog to get a more realistic version of what the scores mean. You could have tons of new readers because of me.

I’m happy to hear you’re considering an article about DCPS math teachers. The Anderson/Turque article today discussed methodology, but not the dedicated teachers who have been using it successfully. You might even look for recent retirees. They will have seen a lot of superintendents come and go and they won’t feel restricted or be afraid of repercussions.

Posted by: efavorite | December 9, 2009 8:48 PM | Report abuse

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