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A tale of two gaps

Some of you expressed confusion earlier this week when a Post editorial reported that the achievement gap separating white and minority students had narrowed between 2007 and 2010. This followed an Aug. 19 story that I wrote describing vast divides in achievement separating schools in Wards 7 and 8 with those in Ward 3. It appeared that the paper had somehow contradicted itself.

What you saw was less a contradiction than a look at the same body of data, sliced differently. It's true that the gaps narrowed between 2007 and 2010. But a closer look at the intervening years, the subject of my story this morning, shows that much of the progress between 2007 and 2009 flattened out in 2010. Whether this is a bump in the road, or a more serious obstacle to the long-term goal of closing the gaps, is something we won't know for sure until more data becomes available.

The ward-by-ward analysis, which DCPS prepared at my request, is just that. It doesn't look at racial and ethinic sub groups citywide, just what's going on at the ward level. It also shows vast academic divides. Here's the whole chart.

Rhee said in an e-mail earlier this week that the ward numbers are accurate. "But it's important for people not to directly correlate that to race or income. The ward by ward breakdown is where kids attend school, not where they live. Therefore Ward 3 schools doing better doesn't correlate to white and wealthy kids doing better necessarily....The growth in 3 could be driven by the Ward 7 and 8 kids traveling there."

Possibly, but it's unlikely that there are many kids traveling the other way -- from Ward 3 to Wards 7 or 8 The numbers in those wards show that while there has been progress, DCPS has an enormous distance to travel before Rhee can say that kids in Georgetown and Anacostia get anything approaching the same kind of education.

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By Bill Turque  |  August 27, 2010; 3:30 PM ET
Categories:  Michelle Rhee , Test scores  
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Next: Rhee: Performance money coming soon


Elementary does not look good at all in Wards 1, 4,5, 6, 7, &8.

Posted by: edlharris | August 27, 2010 4:13 PM | Report abuse

"DCPS has an enormous distance to travel before Rhee can say that kids in Georgetown and Anacostia get anything approaching the same kind of education."

This conclusion is not valid. It assumes all children enter school (i.e. DCPS) with the same resources and pre-school background. The studies that calculate pre-school vocabulary growth between low socio-economic groups and high show a vast gap. If I were you, I'd go over the data more closely applying socio-economic filters to show that DCPS in many cases is actually helping all kids. It's just that our society allows great economic and social disparity put certain kids at a great disadvantage.

Posted by: jedxn1 | August 27, 2010 5:23 PM | Report abuse

Turque writes "DCPS has an enormous distance to travel before Rhee can say that kids in Georgetown and Anacostia get anything approaching the same kind of education."

That is blatantly false. He is assuming that the kids in Ward 3 are getting high scores because they are getting an excellent education with superior teachers. I'm sorry, but that simply isn't true. I had my kids in a Ward 3 elementary school all the way from pre-k through 6th grade. The education was not good at all; some of the teachers were downright incompetent. Nevertheless, my kids scored in the superior range on the English portion of the test in 5th grade -- and their teacher did not assign anything to read the entire year and sent home notices rife with grammatical and spelling errors. She never taught roots, prefixes or suffixes. It was a complete joke.

My kids scored well on the test not because of, but IN SPITE OF their teacher. They have been read to since infancy and are required to read at home; tv and computer are always limited. Still, I got sick of "home schooling" my kids while they were enrolled in DCPS. They are now all in private school, where the standards are much, much higher than even the top public schools in Ward 3. The teachers actually teach -- they edit drafts, give feedback, assign rigorous material -- and hold the kids accountable. I can actually enjoy my kids more because I don't have to be the school marm anymore.

Posted by: trace1 | August 27, 2010 6:25 PM | Report abuse

I'm with trace1. Get your kids out of that hell hole they call DCPS.

Posted by: Unbelievable6 | August 27, 2010 8:49 PM | Report abuse

Again if folks don't get the socio-economic correlation in test scores, they are subjects of the current politics of public education. People are being led by their ignorant noses.

If lower socio-economic groups wrote or controlled the standards by which the DC CAS is written than the higher socio-economic classes would do poorly. It's that simple.

Posted by: jedxn1 | August 27, 2010 9:35 PM | Report abuse

Hey Bill, back before the US Civil War, standardized tests would have no doubt measured an "achievement gap" between white children and children of color. But no rational person would ever have allowed it to be described with such an absurd term. The abolitionists, the Quakers, Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe and the rest would have put the blame for the testing disparity where it belonged, on slavery! That vicious system made it a crime for a child of color to even pick up a book and attempt to learn to read.

The slaveholders certainly would have welcomed a debate over the "achievement gap" while the existence of slavery was ignored. Today, while chattel slavery is a historical relic, its racist economic underpinnings are very much alive in this nation. Racism generated huge profits for the banks in the sub-prime mortgage scam. It's doing the same thing for Kaplan's "sub-prime" Universities and the Washington Post Company.

The new corporate masters of US public education oversee an apartheid-like system where teachers of color are steadily being driven from the classroom to make room for white “Teach For America” missionaries and a second-class education for children of color has been institutionalized. Little wonder the modern overseers are so comfortable making their stand on the "achievement gap" while the economy's ingrained racism and the profound and disproportionate effects of severe poverty on children of color are ignored.

Here's a partial list of the new overseers who shed "crocodile tears" over the achievement gap in public exclusively for personal or political gain. It's quite the diverse group.

George W. Bush
Barack Obama
Rod Paige
Margaret Spellings
Ruby K. Payne
Eli Broad
Joel Klein
Arne Duncan
Michelle Rhee
Bill Gates
Paul Vallas
Jeb Bush
Wendy Kopp
Newt Gingrich
Rush Limbaugh
Michael Bloomberg
Armstrong Williams
Al Sharpton

Posted by: natturner | August 27, 2010 9:38 PM | Report abuse

There SHOULD be a gap between children who receive support at home and those who don't. Otherwise, that means that teachers in school aren't doing a thing.

How can a child who is read to at home, exposed to different places and cultures, taken on family field trips AND receiving a high quality education perform as well a child who receives a high quality education but none of the other support at home? Something's wrong with that picture. The supported child should be performing better. Otherwise, there is no point in parents promoting their child's education - it's all about the school.

Does anyone believe home is the first school anymore?

Posted by: dcpsinsider | August 27, 2010 10:13 PM | Report abuse


I really hope Bill Turque takes the time to study and understand this first cut analysis …

From this article...
“Rhee said in an e-mail earlier this week that the ward numbers are accurate. "But it's important for people not to directly correlate that to race or income. The ward by ward breakdown is where kids attend school, not where they live. Therefore Ward 3 schools doing better doesn't correlate to white and wealthy kids doing better necessarily....The growth in 3 could be driven by the Ward 7 and 8 kids traveling there."

Valerie Strauss’ guest blog by David Berliner (Regents’ professor emeritus at Arizona State University) is very appropriate to this subject. It can be found at this web address:


It is often that Chancellor Rhee hands her critics the very simple tools to dismantle her core philosophy of the importance of “Human Capital” (teachers) and “Neighborhood Schools” (all Neighborhood schools have the same potential).

Rhee is smart. Wrong … but very smart; and she correctly understands that if it can be shown that a fundamental root cause of the Achievement Gap can be linked to her definition of “Neighborhood Schools”, it follows that her philosophy and the policies it sponsors should not be supported in our public schools. It is her Achilles heel, and she knows it.

EFavorite has posted a very relevant quote of the Chancellor that makes this point. Rhee says, “In my second and third years of Teach for America-I taught a group of 70 kids there with another teacher-we took a group of kids who were performing at the bottom and took them to the top. What it showed me very clearly is that everything people were attributing to their low achievement levels-poverty, the lack of two-parent households, those sorts of things-were not the determinants of these kids' success. (Their success) could be impacted dramatically by the teachers in the classroom. If I worked my tail off for three years and despite everything I tried, the achievement level of those kids didn't move, I would have left thinking, 'You have to solve these social ills.' But the experience I had was exactly the opposite. That informs and drives everything that I do.”

I believe her. I mean, I believe she was being honest here. But what has disturbed so many of her critics is how the Chancellor then proceeds to sell her reform policy based the consistent manipulation and mischaracterization of test results. And this latest DCPS data clearly shows a correlation between the economic success of a city Ward and academic achievement which cannot be reconciled with her rhetoric.

And let’s remember the Chancellor’s warning, "But it's important for people not to directly correlate that to race or income …”. Actually, this is exactly WHAT WE SHOULD DO!

--- continued next post ---

Posted by: AGAAIA | August 28, 2010 4:02 AM | Report abuse

--- continued from previous post ---


I performed a coarse (first cut) analysis of a segment of the DCPS data by comparing one data point (2010 Elementary School Math Proficiency by Ward), to Family Income (2000 U.S. Census data by Ward). For a reference example, you can find the economic data for Ward 3 here:

This data set is shown in the following format:
( Ward #; % Proficient; Family Income in $1,000’s )

Ward 1; 49.5%; $45K
Ward 2; 61.4%; $85K
Ward 3; 83.4%; $118K
Ward 4; 50.9%; $72K
Ward 5; 38.0%; $50K
Ward 6; 41.8%; $53K
Ward 7; 34.5%; $45K
Ward 8; 27.0%; $36K

You can graph this for yourself, or you can go to the Dept. of Education website that my 12 year old son and I used to graph this data for you at following web address:

The “Print/Save” tab of the Graphic Data Analysis should be visible. You can then click on the “Download” hotlink to get a PDF of the Graph direct to your computer desktop, or you can click on the “Print” hotlink to produce a PDF of the Graph and Data Table.

The Graphic Data Analysis shows an almost “straight line” correlation between academic achievement (as measured by % Proficient) and Mean Family Income (of the Ward that the tested student’s school resides in). The one data point that is not directly on this “straight line” represents Ward One, which is the smallest, highest density, and the most diverse ethnic population in the city. I do not believe this invalidates the clear pattern shown by this data. Do it for yourself for all the data points in the DCPS dataset it provided and you will see the same correlation.

It is time to ask ourselves, or the Chancellor, the following questions:

1. Do you believe the neighborhood where a school resides is a prominent predictor of the academic achievement of its students?

2. Do you believe that if you transferred the most proven and successful “human capital” (teachers) to the poorest neighborhood schools that it would dramatically change this demonstrated correlation between neighborhood and academic achievement? And if so, why does the Chancellor refuse to transfer these great teachers?

3. And, do you believe that the Achievement Gap can be best addressed by a school reform policy that “seeks to increase the identity of Neighborhood Schools” while the socio-economic (SES) boundaries are so often contiguous with our school boundaries?

We know what the Chancellor has said, but we can’t excuse ourselves if we don’t demand that she be made accountable to the most basic evidence that strongly suggests her core philosophy of education reform is bankrupt.

Posted by: AGAAIA | August 28, 2010 4:04 AM | Report abuse


Of course, home is the first school. But it shouldn't be the only school, unless parents choose to opt out of public or private schooling and fully undertake the task themselves.

There really is something wrong with a school full of "English" teachers that do not assign books, edit drafts of papers, or correct errors and simply award a "check plus." But the kids in Ward 3 will learn how to write anyway, from their lawyer/journalist/public policy professional parents who either do the homework with/for them, or correct the work. Believe, me, I've been around these parents for a long time. Should we expect the same from single, working parents, many of whom have not even graduated high school themselves?

And the truth is that too many teachers in Ward 3 encourage, rather than discourage, this parental over-involvement. When we switched to private school, the teachers said flat out that they wanted to see students' work -- not the parents.

Posted by: trace1 | August 28, 2010 8:23 AM | Report abuse

I asked Miss Rhee a question along the line of point 2.
Dear Miss Rhee,
I am wondering if there are plans to move
highly effective teachers to different
classrooms or even different schools?
For example, say school x has two HE 4th
grade teachers, but no HE 3rd. Rather than
waiting to see if a new person works out, one of
those 4th grade HE would be placed in 3rd.
Or, take a teacher(s) from one of the schools
with high DC-CAS scores and place him(them)
into a school with low DC-CAS scores.

Any plans along those lines?

She responded:
We have incentives for them to move to high need schools but obviously it's their choice to make.


Posted by: edlharris | August 28, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

This is entirely off-subject but addressed to Mr. Turque, nonetheless. Are you aware that 80% of the teachers voted to endorse Vince Gray for Mayor? I would think that that is news. At the very least, it means that 80% of the teachers do not like the type of Rhee-form occurring under the current Mayor. I know the editorial board would probably make some outlandish claim that those 80% are against change, but what about you?

Posted by: vscribe | August 28, 2010 10:31 AM | Report abuse

the ward-level stats are interesting but not at all surprising. and it is clear this has nothing to do with allocation of teaching "talent" or any other resource.

trace1's story is very common. the difference is at home for the set of students tested at the time and place they were tested.

but just think how better the wards with lower incomes would be in terms of educational achievement if the teachers were not as described by trace1. that is where Rhee has been going, as she cannot erase poverty. on the other hand, she can do something about ineffective teachers.

don't be fooled by all the race-based arguments and calls for perfection in ed. management tools and techniques. It is BS and unproven by any school system's experience. if we want change, we must sidestep the dug-in teachers whom trace1 encountered and further develop the ones who can be effective and committed to the children's education rather than the unionista's self-centered goals.

Posted by: axolotl | August 28, 2010 12:22 PM | Report abuse

80% of the teachers probably do not live in DC. They cannot vote in our mayoral election.

Posted by: trace1 | August 28, 2010 12:42 PM | Report abuse

To Trace1 - in past posts I recall that you commented that your child's English teacher was inferior. This time, you mention a "school full of English teachers." Were all the English teachers inferior?

To commenters questioning the reporter - please keep in mind that he is not giving his opinion of the relevance of the achievement gap, but rather reporting on it and presenting the Chancellor's view on it. She has made it very clear that she thinks it's very important and that it can be eradicated simply by good teaching.

Here are some other comments from the Chancellor related to the achievement gap:

“If what we’ve done in five years is to grow the enrollment and diversify the enrollment and brought the achievement levels up, but [when] we look at low-income black kids’ scores, they are no different than when I got here, than I would say I have failed,” 8/26/10

The reality here in Washington, DC is, if you live in Georgetown versus if you live in Anacostia, you get two wildly different educational experiences. That’s the biggest social injustice imaginable, because it basically says that we’re allowing the color of a child’s skin, and the zip code that they live in to dictate their educational attainment levels and their life chances and their life outcome. July 14, 2008

And of course the 5/7/09 quote from politics daily that AGAAIA copied above.

To AGAAIA – thanks for the ward stats. We need to get more information like that out to the public.

Posted by: efavorite | August 28, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

To Bill Turque: Thank you very much for clarifying this.

It should also be in the print edition where the many readers who were confused by the seeming contradictions could have it sorted out for them.

Maybe the editorial page will take a stab at this, but I fear the result will be more confusion.

Here again is my word parsing of the confusing editorial page passage, which I consider to be a plain case of irresponsible journalism - meant to mislead instead of inform the reader:

“There also has been success [as well as failure] in shrinking the achievement gap between white and minority students [only 10thgrade math improved and only by 2 or 3 points] between 2007 and 2010 on the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System [But Rhee can’t be credited for gains in 2007, because she wasn’t here yet]. African American students in particular had success in closing the gap [Their losses under Rhee’s watch weren’t as great as Hispanic losses], with the most significant gains [that is, the ONLY minority gains], on the secondary level.” [There were no gains at the elementary level.]

Posted by: efavorite | August 28, 2010 2:30 PM | Report abuse

My kid were not assigned a single book to read until 6th grade. Their 6th grade teacher was a first year recruit who left after that year to teach at a charter school in Harlem. She was terrific. (So I bristle a bit when people are dismissive of first year teachers.) To answer your question, every other grade level teacher, all responsible for teaching "English," did not assign any literature.

The mantra at my Ward 3 elementary school was always "read at home." Some teachers would assign 30 minutes of reading a night. But there was never any follow up, or discussion or assessment. I'm sorry, but that just doesn't cut it. That's lazy, and it puts too much on the parents, most of whom have jobs, both mothers and fathers. Plus, my kids were reading at home, but the stuff they would choose was fluff. Understandable, really, because they're kids. But I wanted -- no, expected -- the teacher to push them by assigning books. When we moved our kids to private school, we realized that their new classmates had been reading as a class, and discussing pretty sophisticated books in literature circles, since 3rd grade. My kids had lots of catching up to do, and they were considered "high achievers" in DCPS.

Maybe things have changed at my local elementary school. My experience is pre- Michelle Rhee.

My point is that kids need both a supportive home life AND excellent teachers. My kids had the former, but not the latter, in DCPS.

Posted by: trace1 | August 28, 2010 3:30 PM | Report abuse

Imagine an emergency room doctor being evaluated on the number of incoming patients leaving 100% healthy (i.e. "proficient") or a firefighter evaluated on the number of fires that don't cause damage. Teachers are in the same boat. They are hard workers but not miracle workers.

Posted by: jedxn1 | August 28, 2010 4:00 PM | Report abuse

edlharris wrote,
"I asked Miss Rhee a question along the line of point 2.

Dear Miss Rhee,
I am wondering if there are plans to move
highly effective teachers to different
classrooms or even different schools?
For example, say school x has two HE 4th
grade teachers, but no HE 3rd. Rather than
waiting to see if a new person works out, one of
those 4th grade HE would be placed in 3rd.
Or, take a teacher(s) from one of the schools
with high DC-CAS scores and place him(them)
into a school with low DC-CAS scores.

Any plans along those lines?

MR responded:
We have incentives for them to move to high need schools but obviously it's their choice to make.



I can not be alone in wondering how a school Chancellor capable of making the "tough decisions" required to move our failing schools forward, is all of a sudden powerless to put the most effective teachers in the most needy public schools.

This would be the ultimate test of her philosophy of "human capital" and give her the validation she seeks! Would it not?

Rhee can fire teachers with outstanding records and student/parent/administrator recommendations. She can uproot school principals such as Patrick Pope at Hardy MS in the face of overwhelming support because some families that are not currently in attendance don't like him.

But she will rely on an incentive system that can't put the best teachers where they will do the most good? All of a sudden, the Chancellor's powers are too anemic to make this happen?

As comedian Steve Martin used to say ...

Posted by: AGAAIA | August 28, 2010 5:06 PM | Report abuse


I mentioned nothing about voting. The point I was making, and I think it is very newsworthy, is that 80% of the people in the trenches are rejecting the Fenty/Rhee experiment. They know them better than many who are not involved in the system, and I believe that might include you.

We should listen to them.

Posted by: vscribe | August 28, 2010 5:14 PM | Report abuse


After reading your comment about your children's experience in D.C., I can tell that you have very little knowledge of the system and have jumped on the "let's slander the teachers" bandwagon, simply because it has become the fashionable and acceptable thing to do.

That your children were not assigned extra reading is not the teacher's fault. The central office designs the curriculum which the teacher must follow. Dr. Janey did a lot to place a curriculum in place and had begun to align novels to each grade level. However, with Janey's exit, Rhee did not follow through with training in the curriculum, and Dr. Janey simply was not given the opportunity to follow through on the sensible reforms he had introduced. He did not have a great deal of time to standardize the curricula in the way that they are in the Maryland school system in which I currently teach.

Rhee arrived and has done nothing to move the curriculum forward. She simply has been too busy firing teachers and bringing in young, white teachers, who laugh at her stories of the abuse she inflicted on little African American students in Baltimore. Under Rhee, teachers increasingly are obligated to teach to the test throughout the year, so I guarantee you that your children would be reading even fewer novels under Rhee's tenure. A disproportionate number of teachers' time is spent teaching students how to take standardized tests. Teachers in D.C. simply are not given the latitude to assign novels for reading. There simply is no time for that. The issue you raise, therefore, is, and always has been, a systemic problem; you cannot blame the teachers for that.

When I taught in D.C. (I resigned in end of 2009), I had a bit of flexibility to assign extra reading, but that was because I taught special education and had to buy, or seek funding through Donors Choose for, my own books anyway. The school system did not give special educators books, at least not at the six schools where I taught. (From what I hear, under Rhee, nothing much has changed).

So, please, teachers get banged around enough. We do not need parents without knowledge of the inner workings of D.C. and of the extent to which Rhee sweeps problems under the rug, scapegoating the teachers. It's a ridiculous approach when you really think about the fact that others control the resources needed in the schools and design--or should design--the content taught.

Posted by: vscribe | August 28, 2010 5:46 PM | Report abuse

'Rhee said in an e-mail earlier this week that the ward numbers are accurate. "But it's important for people not to directly correlate that to race or income. The ward by ward breakdown is where kids attend school, not where they live. Therefore Ward 3 schools doing better doesn't correlate to white and wealthy kids doing better necessarily....The growth in 3 could be driven by the Ward 7 and 8 kids traveling there." '

Yes ... and and a cow jumped over the moon. Michelle Rhee's spin would be comical if it were not so dishonest. Parents are sending their children from Kalorama and Chevy Chase to schools in Anacostia? I don't think so.

Posted by: blaneyboy | August 28, 2010 6:11 PM | Report abuse

Can you please do a story on why one of Rhee's daughters is now attending Deal? They were both at Oyster-Adams. Her ex-husband's address is in the Oyster -Adams boundary and her address is in the MacFarland boundary.

What is up with this? Why isn't she willing to send her kids to schools in Ward 4?

Posted by: letsbereal2 | August 28, 2010 6:40 PM | Report abuse

The data is totally false.

Look at the national tests for D.C. in 2009 and you will see very low proficiency rates that indicate that the claim of D.C. in regard to proficient students are false.

The DC local tests have simply been dumbed down and as such are pretty meaningless.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 28, 2010 9:09 PM | Report abuse

Another study, by the D.C. Council's budget office, shows that nearly 75 percent of the students in Ward 3 attend class in modernized buildings, compared with 21 percent in Ward 8.
Time for readers to wonder why such a small city such as D.C. has such racially segregated Wards.

There is no reason for racial segregation in such a small city as D.C.

Posted by: bsallamack | August 28, 2010 9:18 PM | Report abuse

Seems that some people read parental input on teacher quality and just don't like it. And they want to impose the "expert screen"==unless you have been a teacher or know all the dreary ins and outs of DCPS, you just can't comment.

Nope, efavorite and others were right. Parental input is critical and should carry a lot of weight. Use it.

I fully agree that teachers from better performing schools need to be rotated into the weaker ones. Good idea, as I said weeks ago when efav and someone else (Eddy? Phil? UD?) suggested it. But let this not be a shield for the ineffective. If those eduators going to the higher-scoring wards from the lower-scoring wards turn out to be weak teachers, they may need to get their resumes in shape quickly. No free rides, no union protections.

But don't expect that to work miracles. If the kids go home to one parent, or two tired parents, or undereducated parents, or dysfunctional parents, they will not retain enough of the good learning that might take place in school. We can't expect the schools to overcome socioeconomic differences and parental dysfunctions.

And if you think there has been some plot to keep the good teachers away from the poorer wards, that's silly and unproven. And that would have to have begun decades ago--was it Marion who let this happen? Was he the author of this conspiracy? Yeah.

And let's not forget Vince Gray's view of this issue. He does have a view, and he shortly will be disclosing it. Buy your tickets now.

Posted by: axolotl | August 28, 2010 9:31 PM | Report abuse

The lack of rigor, oversight, and proper assignments had nothing to do with the curriculum. If it did, why did the (brand new) 6th grade teacher assign such excellent work? Why did she require drafts and give plenty of feedback? It was the same curriculum. The difference was the teacher.

You consider me a "parent without knowledge" of the inner workings of DCPS. This is a shame. I'm very interested in the views of teachers. Seems many teachers, at least you, vscribe, don't have the same interest in the views of longtime DCPS parents. We each have a valid point of view. Hearing each other and seeking out common ground would be beneficial for the District's children.

Common ground would include the laser-focus emphasis on testing. I understand that my local elementary school is now dropping history from its 5th grade curriculum, and that whatever history is learned will come through the English program. This is because of testing, I think, and it's wrong.

Unfortunately, you consider parents as people who are "not involved in the system." Imagine if any company said that about its customers.

Posted by: trace1 | August 29, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Because you have been abused by the Post leadership, you have significantly more credibility than Jay Matthews on this subject. According to Jay, the gap is not important...unless you are making comparisions between DCPS and charter schools...then it IS important. mmmmmmm.

Posted by: topryder1 | August 30, 2010 1:22 PM | Report abuse

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