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Test scores: Whose good news?

Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee tried last week to take the edge off of the decline in elementary reading and math scores on the 2010 DC CAS by emphasizing student gains over the last three years (2007-2010). Proficiency rates among secondary students grew by an average of 14 percentage points in reading and 17 points in math during that period. Elementary students rose 7 points in reading and 14 points in math.

The biggest increment of growth came on the 2008 DC CAS, when elementary reading and math grew 8 and 11 points respectively, while secondary math and reading rose nine percentage points apiece. Those scores were from tests administered in the spring of 2008, the end of Rhee's first year on the job and a period when much of her energy was directed not at classroom instruction but at large structural issues such as school closings. Some readers have asked whether the three-year record has more to do with the coattails of her predecessor, Clifford Janey, than with changes she made.

There's no one answer to the question. In some ways it resembles the partisan debate that emerges when the economy goes bad or surges under a new president. Supporters will credit the administration for the good news and blame the bad on the old crowd. Opponents of the incumbent will greet good news with the coattail argument and hold him accountable for setbacks.

In an e-mail, Rhee said: "The fact is that over the last three years, DCPS students have made unprecedented gains in academic achievement, according to every measuring stick available to us (DC CAS, NAEP, graduation rates). That is a record that we are proud of, because it means that more of our students are prepared to continue their education through high school, college and beyond. While opponents of reform may want to manipulate the data to their own ends, we are confident that our efforts have produced strong results. Though we still have a long way to go, we are pleased with our progress thus far, and parents seem to agree, as DCPS enrollment bounced back last year in a way unseen for the last decade."

"Some parents seem to agree" might be a more accurate phrasing. The flip side to the good news/bad news principle is that chief executives tend to overstate their good news. While DCPS enrollment has stabilized after many years of losses, it has done so largely on the strength of new students at the pre-k and kindergarten levels. As Cathy Reilly, director of the Senior High Alliance of Parents, Principals and Educators pointed out in a recent letter to The Post, high school enrollment is down 16 percent from 2007.

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By Bill Turque  |  July 20, 2010; 11:15 AM ET
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"In an e-mail, Rhee said: "The fact is that over the last three years, DCPS students have made unprecedented gains in academic achievement, according to every measuring stick available to us (DC CAS, NAEP, graduation rates)."

Elementary reading scores are below the 2008 level, so they have virtually stayed the same under Miss Rhee.

Posted by: edlharris | July 20, 2010 11:28 AM | Report abuse

"Those scores were from tests administered in the spring of 2008, the end of Rhee's first year on the job and a period when much of her energy was directed not at classroom instruction but at large structural issues such as school closings."

If the changes were due to Janey, was it due to curriculum changes or the changes in the way the tests were administered?

The one thing that would really increase learning in the classroom would be behavioral and psychological intervention for children with emotional problems. But I don't see any big names in education (like Rhee and Duncan) talking about this.

Posted by: jlp19 | July 20, 2010 12:10 PM | Report abuse

The improvements are the result of Janey's reforms, not Rhee's. That's why the biggest gain was the year after he left when we would naturally be seeing the results of his efforts.

Enrollment at the PK & Kindergarten levels is increasing because young families moving into DC cannot afford to send their kids to private schools as they have done in the past.

Rhee cannot and should not take credit for improvements except the central office. She's been a total disaster, disappointment and is nothing but dictator with no leadership skills whatsoever.

Posted by: UrbanDweller | July 20, 2010 1:21 PM | Report abuse

Rhee's email sounds defensive. I suspect she knows very well that when the full info on the 2010 DC-CAS scores come out, she is going to look bad.

readers: check out the conversation at:

Please help me ponder why Rhee is not blaming teachers for the decline in scores. According to Rhee, "teachers are everything," right? That's why she's been on a rampage to replace so many. So she shouldn't have to dig too far into the data to figure out what happened.

Posted by: efavorite | July 20, 2010 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Here’s what Rhee said when the positive 2008 DC-CAS results were released:

"We made every one of those decisions [more accountability for principals and teachers, increasing test preparation programs, emphasizing data-driven results] because we felt that this is what was needed to happen . . . so achievement can be maximized. I fully believe we will see the upward trajectory as long as we're making the hard decisions."

So, she has cerainly continued making those “hard decisions” – hiring 900 new teachers last summer, RIFing 266 in October, firing and hiring more principals. What happened to the upward trajectory that she so fully believed in?

Posted by: efavorite | July 20, 2010 1:40 PM | Report abuse

As one looks at the high-school population as being the most affected. When you digest the will have to consider that at least 3 schools in northeast/southeast quandrant went through an guinea pig experiment. Here you had Woodson...keeping 9th graders at an off-site location for two years. Therefore, the actually comprehensive high-school atmosphere was at the middle school level. That was also reflective in all data i.e. school population as it pertained to Woodson High School. Then you have Eastern which was being phased the lost was somewhat manufactured as the "choices" was either the neighborhood school or charter and many chosed Friendship. Finally, you had Anacostia that went through a transition where it saw an increase but all-in-all more students were turned away and their alternative choices was charter-schools.

Not being the mathematician...but if the 3 schools mentioned above would probably average an incoming 9th grade population of 350 students each..that could have easily rounded out the 8% drop.

Posted by: PowerandPride | July 20, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

Where the DOE Reviewers correct"

"Despite recent positive news on NAEP math and reading scores, the panel says a closer look the data "show mixed results and continuing and sizeable achievement gaps." The District earned 21.6 out of 30 points in this area. Officials raise the question of whether the gains reflect an initial shock of reform that will fade over time, or something more permanent:

"The number of points awarded to this section is due to the concern that the quick gains may be the result of the newly imposed expectations rather than proven instructional practices that will need to be sustained over time. The District would need to analyze the achievement data and explore the connections between the data and the sustainable actions that have contributed to sudden academic"

Posted by: thelildiva4u | July 20, 2010 2:58 PM | Report abuse

Michelle Rhee says, “The fact is that over the last three years, DCPS students have made unprecedented gains in academic achievement, according to every measuring stick available to us (DC CAS, NAEP, graduation rates).”

Hold it – NAEP has NOT seen unprecedented gains in the last three years. Ask her to correct that, Bill. No false statements about data from the Chancellor, please. We need integrity in the data if we are to use them to determine student achievement and teacher effectiveness.

You can see from my handy DC NAEP scores* from ’96 on that what she says isn’t so:

First of all, NAEP wasn’t even calculated over the three years Rhee has been here. NAEP is usually done every two years (unlike DC-CAS which is done every year) and the next NAEP isn’t until 2011. So her basic premise is off. She can’t say “unprecedented… according to every measuring stick” because there is no stick to measure NAEP achievements during her time in DC.

The same holds for DC-CAS, because as she knows very well, the test changed from SAT-9 to DC-CAS in 2006 and you can’t compare apples to oranges.

Even so, let’s look at recent NAEP score gains compared to past ones (scores have been going up for the past decade, as I say repeatedly, hoping it will seep into the collective consciousness.)

In 4th grade math, there was a five point jump from 07 to 09, but we can’t count ’07, because the tests were taken in March, before Rhee arrived in July. So let’s look at past years and we see that in the three year period between 2000 and 2003, NAEP went from 192 to 205, a 7 point increase.

1996 – 187
2000 – 192
2003 – 205
2005 – 211
2007 – 214
2009 – 219

In 8th grade math, I see another jump of 7 points in the three year period between 2000 (235) and 2003 (243)

1996 – 233
2000 – 235
2003 – 243
2005 – 245
2007 – 248
2009 – 254

Then, in 4th grade reading, I see a 6 point increase in the two year period between 2005 (191) and 2007 (197), larger than the 5 point increase between 2007 and 2009 which we can’t count anyway because Rhee didn’t come until after the ’07 tests were taken.

1998 – 179
2002 – 191
2003 – 188
2005 – 191
2007 – 197
2009 – 202

Eighth grade reading doesn’t show any impressive increases, but the largest two year increase came before Rhee’s time. It was an additional 3 points between 2005 (238) and 2007 (241).

1998 – 236
2002 – 240
2003 – 239
2005 – 238
2007 – 241
2009 – 242

So please, ask her to be straight with the numbersa and to drop the “unprecedented” now. She finally stopped misrepresenting Shaw’s scores after being called out on it twice by the media. She’s never been asked by the media to recant her Baltimore teaching claim of “from the 13th to the 90th percentile.” This new NAEP claim does not portend well for the next set of numbers that come out.

Our children deserve better

* (then click on “District of Colu

Posted by: efavorite | July 20, 2010 4:08 PM | Report abuse

"NAEP has NOT seen unprecedented gains in the last three years."

That's what I thought. Turque, can you look into this?

Posted by: aby1 | July 20, 2010 4:46 PM | Report abuse

Rhee and the other "true" reformers keep practicing the same manipulative techniques-- saying unfounded and/or false statements over and over again until the general public, politicians and the press accept them as facts.

Posted by: letsbereal2 | July 20, 2010 10:06 PM | Report abuse

Efavorite: You need to replace Jay Mathews. You ROCK!!!!

Posted by: candycane1 | July 21, 2010 7:39 AM | Report abuse

Oh, this is tedious, Turque. Reruns of the same HS football game, with you and everyone else paying special attention to the claims made in cheerleader chants.


DCPS has linked year to year and even within year gains --kids take a fall pretest, then more of them during the year -- on the DC CAS and DC BAS. So,it could report what fraction of the 50% of students with the LARGEST gains were in the 50% of classrooms with teachers the IMPACT evaluation system rated as being the LEAST effective.

DC knows now the figure is closer to 45%.

IOW, lots of "learning" with "ineffective" teachers, and lots of minimal learning with effective ones.

Put in a FOIA request.

Embarrassing? No, shameful.

Posted by: incredulous | July 21, 2010 11:05 AM | Report abuse

MATH ERROR - this time it's mine:

In 8th grade math, the score incease in the three year period between 2000 (235) and 2003 (243) is EIGHT points, not 7.

Incredulous - if you're right (how would you know this?) then it may account for what I perceived as Rhee's defensive stance.

Also, could you explain your reasoning a little more for the math impaired?

Posted by: efavorite | July 21, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

She's absolutely ridiculous -- now we're in year 3 and she still can't stack her reform-minded scores against any of the surrounding districts. The city should be embarassed to allow her to continue to waste time and money doing absolutely nothing to better the lives of the students in the district. If there's an assault on the classroom and teachers are forever looking over their backs and feel stifled by the constant eyes of big brother your gains won't be noteworthy. She's full of it and has taken this city for well over a million dollars and still can't produce any significant noteable results that would justify all of her reform efforts. When are the people of the city going to wake up and send a strong message by denouncing her reform tactics and measures. With all that she's done in order to raise student achievement, the numbers don't speak to it. She's a farce! Vote FENTY OUT AND GET RID OF RHEE! VOTE FENTY OUT AND GET RID OF RHEE!

Posted by: wtf1 | July 22, 2010 10:59 AM | Report abuse

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