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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