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Achievement gap creeps back up in 2010

The central theme of last week's story on the Fenty-Rhee education record was that sobering caveats lurked under the rosy numbers cited by the administration on the campaign trail. Drill deeper on test scores, enrollment, graduation rates, facilities and special education, and a more complicated narrative emerges.

Add the achievement gap to that list. After two years of progress, Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee's effort to shrink the vast achievement gap separating white and African American students in D.C. public schools has stalled, according to an analysis of 2010 DC CAS scores.

Earlier this week, Rhee released data showing that the black-white gap narrowed--significantly in some cases--between 2007 and 2010.The most significant improvement was in secondary schools, where the spread in math achievement shrank more than more 18 percentage points -- from 70 percent to 51.4 percent.

But a look at the year-to-year results shows that after narrowing between 2007 and 2009, progress slowed markedly this year. The gap in secondary reading proficiency, for example, closed by 15 points -- from 67.2 percent to 52.2 percent -- between 2007 and 2010. But nearly all of that improvement came between 2007 and 2009. This past school year, the gap closed by less than a percentage point.

Proficiency gaps in the elementary grades narrowed more modestly across the three-year span. The black-white gap in elementary math achievement closed by 2.5 points between 2007 and 2010. But between 2009 and 2010, it grew by 4.3 percentage points. In elementary schools, the three-year stretch shows the divide in reading closing by 1.7 points. But that includes a widening of 3.5 points in 2009-10. It means that the 2010 elementary reading gap is almost exactly where it was in 2007.

In a statement Thursday afternoon, Rhee spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway said the school system used the three-year time frame because that is how long the Fenty administration's reform effort has been underway. She also cautioned against forming broad judgments on the basis of a single year's data.

"Change does not happen overnight," Calloway said. "Any one single data point -- or change in a single data point over one year -- is not sufficient to make overall conclusions about progress on this goal. To only consider one year, would not accurately portray what has happened during this administration."

More to come on this later this evening, when the full story goes online. For an excellent analysis, see Guy Brandenburg's blog.

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By Bill Turque  |  August 24, 2010; 6:22 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Mayor's Race , Michelle Rhee , Test scores  
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Next: A tale of two gaps


Here is the link to the specific entry by Guy:

Guy looks at the gap from grades 3 to 8 and grade 10.

Here's the stuff that looks good for Fenty/Rhee:
In the 6th grade in math, we see our first case of an actual, steady narrowing of the black-white achievement gap. However, one could argue that this is canceled out by the fact that the reading gap for 6th graders is now, in 2010, even wider than it was in 2007.

In the 7th grade, the progress in closing the gap does appear to exist, but it’s not steady, and the gap widened a lot in math last year.

The other grades don't look so good for F/R.

Something that is not clear in the data from DCPS is whether it includes the charter schools. This is important because the charter schools have been promoted as an alternative for minority and poor students.

If that 7th grade gap decreased because a significant number of 7th graders went to charters, then maybe there really wasn't any progress.

One could examine the enrollment stats over the years to see if this has any impact. (eg, the number of 6th graders in 2008 and the number of 7th graders in 2009, etc)

Posted by: edlharris | August 26, 2010 10:08 PM | Report abuse

""Change does not happen overnight," Calloway said. "Any one single data point -- or change in a single data point over one year -- is not sufficient to make overall conclusions about progress on this goal. To only consider one year, would not accurately portray what has happened during this administration.""

Yet that's the opposite of what she, Rhee, Kamras and Fenty have argued on behalf of IMPACT.

Posted by: edlharris | August 26, 2010 10:11 PM | Report abuse


Good point.

""Change does not happen overnight," Calloway said. "Any one single data point -- or change in a single data point over one year -- is not sufficient to make overall conclusions about progress on this goal. To only consider one year, would not accurately portray what has happened during this administration.""

Yet that's the opposite of what she, Rhee, Kamras and Fenty have argued on behalf of IMPACT.

Posted by: stevendphoto | August 26, 2010 11:07 PM | Report abuse

"Something that is not clear in the data from DCPS is whether it includes the charter schools. This is important because the charter schools have been promoted as an alternative for minority and poor students."

Why are charter schools always being promoted as an alternative for minority and poor students? If they're so great, why aren't they popping up all over Ward 3?

Posted by: berniehorn | August 27, 2010 12:13 AM | Report abuse

Bill & Guy:

Happy you have linked up.

There are two factors that are often overlooked when evaluating this OSSE (DC Office of the State Superintendent of Education) data, and how this effects its measurement of the DCPS Achievement Gap over time.


DC-CAS results are not actual test scores like those provided by the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress), but are instead percentages of the population that the OSSE has determined meet the standard of "Proficient or Above". The NAEP has also translated their scores to the same four student achievement levels (Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced).

But the increase in the percentages of "Proficient or Above" as determined by the OSSE for the DC-CAS are significantly inflated as compared to the NAEP during the period between 2007 and 2009 (NAEP testing under Rhee). Mr. Brandenburg has documented this in this article, "Another Credibility Gap? Looks Like Rhee, Fenty, and Reinoso are Gaming the Tests to Try to Look Good", to be found at this web address:

While it is difficult to determine exactly how much this type of 'Proficiency Inflation" would decrease the Achievement Gap, it almost certainly is a factor that will make DCPS look better than advertised. This is because the median achievement level for white children is far above "Proficient", and the median for minority children is below "Proficient".


The OSSE reporting for Secondary School students does not include a large group of 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Why? Because these students are now part of the rapidly growing number of K-8 schools that DCPS and OSSE classifies as Elementary Schools. And these are schools with predominantly minority populations in neighborhoods that historically have the poorest academic achevement.

These are not totally phantom children. These students are tested, and you can find their results when searching the OSSE database in the School Report Card for each individual school by grade. But since they are located in "Elementary Schools", they are not included in either the Elementary School or Secondary School calculations when determining "Proficient or Above".

Since the K-8 schools do not include a predictably lower scoring segment of minority children (in grades 6,7 &8), the measured Secondary School scores will be higher that if they had been included, and the Achievement Gap will close correspondingly. My preliminary analysis suggests that since 2007, this number of phantom students has grown from a few hundred to over 3,000 children. This is yet another way in which DCPS is gaming the system.


I am looking forward to both Mr. Turque’s and Mr. Brandenburg’s reporting on our “Missing Children”.

Posted by: AGAAIA | August 27, 2010 4:46 AM | Report abuse

On April 30th, in the City Council Chamber, Marion Barry waved a report that described evidence that the Achievement Gap was increasing under Chancellor Rhee. As part of her sworn testimony, Chancellor Rhee promised the DC Council proof that the Achievement Gap was closing under her leadership. We are still waiting.


Debate over DCPS Achievement Gap

Chancellor Rhee has consistently advanced standardized test scores as the primary measure of student, teacher, and school success or failure. While this in itself is wrong and very disturbing, it has been accompanied by equally consistent manipulation and mischaracterization of test results.

With regard to the achievement gap, TUDA (Trial Urban District Assessment) data strongly suggests that between 2007 and 2009 the DCPS is the among the worst public school systems in America, and getting worse. A DCPS math and science teacher consulted with statistical behavior scientists in developing a report and testimony that he presented to DC City Council in April 2010. I have reviewed this report, which compares TUDA data for each urban district, and it shows consistent increases in test score gaps (based on race and economic status) which were equal or greater than most or all other districts in the TUDA study.

In her testimony before the DC City Council, Chancellor Rhee refuted any conclusion that the achievement gap was increasing, and promised that the ‘National Center for Education Statistics’ (NCES) statistics analysis group (lead by Peggy Carr of the Assessment Division) would backup her many claims of reducing the achievement gap. Subsequently, the NCES Assessment Division provided a letter that selectively dismissed portions, BUT NOT ALL parts of this teacher’s report as “statistically insignificant”. They also included an annotated version of the report’s PowerPoint presentation in their response that had removed critical slides that described the largest gaps without comment or explanation. These described Achievement Gaps that were “significant”, even by their own standards.

We have not received any correspondence from the NCES Assessment Division that has backed up Chancellor Rhee’s claims of reducing the achievement gap, nor has Rhee provided any additional documents from NCES that she promised to the DC Council.

Posted by: AGAAIA | August 27, 2010 4:49 AM | Report abuse

Great story - at last.

Meanwhile, at present, the "comment" option for the front page article is not easily available online. The only way to get to the comments section there is to open the article in "print" mode and scroll to the bottom, where the "comments" option is available. Few people will notice this. - none so far have commented.

I've seen this glitch occasionally before.

I emailed the Post about this, and hope it will be fixed soon.

Posted by: efavorite | August 27, 2010 8:04 AM | Report abuse

Thanks for printing the truth Bill and what we teacher in DCPS have been saying since soon after Rhee got here. She CAN'T use the first 2 years because she was riding on Janey's coat tails at that point!

People should read the article in this week's City Paper. Here's what's happening: test scores will rise as poor African-American students leave the system and White middle and upper middle class students flood the system. Rhee cannot be credited with the rise in scores when it happens because it's a matter of a shift in demographics.

The people in DC are being played. Don't get me wrong: I am all for more White kids enrolling in DCPS--diversity is a great thing and our kids need to be exposed to different ethnicities and cultures at an early age. But why is it attention is being paid to DCPS now? What about all the children who have come through the system who went to these schools when they were falling down around them?

Before anyone here accuses me of being an angry Black person, I'm not Black. I'm White but not a bleeding heart White liberal full of guilt either. I'm just a person who believes in fairness and equality. I've taught in southeast for a number of years now in buildings I wouldn't send a dog into yet we expected teachers to teach students in deplorable conditions without curricula, standards and basic necessities. Now all of a sudden we see an influx of a new students and a sweeping demographic change and everyone is paying attention. Teachers and parents and the union have been crying out for years for these changes.

Please read the article in the City Paper.

And Bill, please keep've only begun to scratch the surface and expose the real truth!!!!

Posted by: UrbanDweller | August 27, 2010 9:00 AM | Report abuse

Here's the link to City Paper article:

Posted by: UrbanDweller | August 27, 2010 9:04 AM | Report abuse

Unfortunately, I can see Rhee supporters reading about thw growing gap and thinking, "who cares - as long as my kid is doing fine."

Posted by: efavorite | August 27, 2010 9:05 AM | Report abuse

The Rhee administration wants us to disregard the widening Achievement gap and the dip in elementary proficiency, but teachers are not so lucky -- one bad year of IMPACT scores, and you're out.

Posted by: efavorite | August 27, 2010 9:37 AM | Report abuse

Thanks Bill for stating the facts. Rhee's agenda is to use veteran educators as scapegoats. In addition, Rhee is only a teacher recruiter for TFA who annual salary is higher than the Mayor.

Please read Rhee's comments in the September 2010 Ebony Issue..with President Obama on the Cover, especially pages 76-81.

"I (Rhee) think it's important not to underestimate the size and scale and impact the programs like Teach for America are having. Here in Washington, DC between 20 and 40 percent of the new teachers we hire each year are coming in through those programs."

Rhee's reform is to overspend, overhire and fire educators. Rhee implemented her Master Education Reform Plan SY 09-10 and it was a disgrace.

Enough is Enough!!

DCPS students need a certified and qualified Superintendent!!

Posted by: sheilahgill | August 27, 2010 10:00 AM | Report abuse

2007 until 2010, is a FOUR -year time frame, because the 2007 scores reflect the 2006-2007 school year, before Fenty and Rhee arrived.

Fenty took office in January 2007 and Rhee wasn’t hired until July 2007, so their first year of influence on the school scores wasn’t until the end of the 2007- 2008 school year.

Posted by: efavorite | August 27, 2010 10:23 AM | Report abuse

More About Hidden Children

OSSE and DCPS treat Middle Schools (grades 6, 7 & 8) and High Schools (grades 9, 10, 11 & 12) as "Secondary Schools".

If you go to the left hand "School Reports" column of the OSSE database home page:

... and select the Year, then select "Report Card", then select DCPS Schools, then select Secondary Schools; you will find all the Middle Schools listed. You can then further refine your search by grade level by clicking the hot link at the top of that individual school's report card page.

I didn't say this before, because I thought it would make this even more confusing, but the rational for not including the K-8 type schools stems from the AYP evaluation methods. It was argued that these "K-8 Elementary Schools" should not be punished by having to include grades 6, 7 & 8, when most elementary schools are now K-5 in DCPS.

This "Apples vs. Oranges" argument may be appropriate in this case for AYP, however, it also has the effect of hiding these quasi-middle school students from the Secondary School aggregate DCPS results for the DC-CAS. I have been told this by two separate sources, and I intend to ask OSSE directly next week.

Please feel free to call on OSSE, as we should get as much independent verification of this a possible. Also, it is important to establish exactly how many children are in this group, and what their "Proficient and Above" percentage is. OSSE can generate this data quite easily. While it is possible to do the same by adding up the data from all the K-8 schools for grades 6, 7 & 8, it will take longer. As the Chancellor has said, "We need to make people accountable."

Posted by: AGAAIA | August 27, 2010 12:05 PM | Report abuse

So Callaway says now, after anemic gains in some areas and decline in others, "To only consider one year, would not accurately portray what has happened during this administration."

Let's take a quick trip back to July 2008, when Fenty was quoted in the Post saying "the initiatives the chancellor is putting into place are bearing fruit and the school system is moving in the right direction."

Hm. After only one year.

So which is it, AMF/DCPS? Trip over yourselves to take credit for good news, yet advise interpretive caution when its bad?

Posted by: goldgirl96 | August 27, 2010 12:11 PM | Report abuse

July 08 - when Rhee hadn't done anything but close schools and fire central office staff - is supposed to have had an impact on student scores.

But supposedly, it doesn't count later, when, after firing scores of principals and teachers, scores go down.

Posted by: efavorite | August 27, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

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