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Fact-checking the mayoral debate

Education came up early and often during Wednesday's afternoon Newseum mayoral debate. In high-stakes political events like this the first casualties often are nuance, context and recent history. Some of the factual claims fell into the "Yes, but" category, where a quick, driveby assertion was true as far as it went, but was also misleading without more explanation. Other claims had no apparent basis in fact:

"Record test score improvement." Fenty touched on this several times. There has been improvement in DC CAS scores, continuing a trend that began under former superintendent Clifford Janey. Secondary schools show an average gain of 14 percentage points in reading proficiency and 17 points in math. But this year elementary scores dipped by about 4.5 points after two years of outsize gains.

Scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) a federal test, also show growth that spans the tenures of Janey and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee. But NAEP is also where Fenty can legitimately point to "record test score improvement." Last year, math and reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders in the District grew more than for peers in any other urban district that took the test.

"Graduation rates are up."Fenty is right that high school completion rates do show a rise, but that's from using a questionable methodology that may make them look higher than they are. The District plans to go to a more rigorous method, which is expected to cause the rates to show a dip next year.

Balanced budget In an exchange with D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray about Rhee's basis for laying off more than 200 educators last fall, Fenty stated that the.council received a 2010 budget certified as balanced by Chief Financial Officer Natwar M. Gandhi. In fact, Gandhi asked for the resignation of Noah Wepman, his deputy in charge of DCPS finances in late 2009, after Wepman disclosed the existence of a $13 million gap that helped trigger the layoffs. Wepman acknowledged that he did not inform Gandhi of the problem before Gandhi certified the budget as balanced.

Special education.: Gray trashed Fenty's special education record by focusing on the enormous expense of keeping students in non-public schools because the District can't meet their needs. But even court-appointed monitors in the special education class action suits acknowledge that there has been progress in reducing backlogs for timely due process hearings and decisions. Fenty added to the confusion by citing a statement from Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, that called DCPS' test score gains among the strongest in the nation. It was an accurate paraphrase of Casserly, but one that had nothing to do with special ed.

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By Bill Turque  |  September 1, 2010; 4:42 PM ET
Categories:  D.C. Mayor's Race , Michelle Rhee  
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Comments

The citizenry is expected to give this jerk 4 more years when he refuses to acknowledge the truth? DCPS is not better off, the test scores have fallen and he continues to lie about it.

This is a clear indication that he still does not get it. The mayor is displaying that he still won't listen, it's what he says and not what it really is and that 4 more years of him will be 4 more years of Rhee, more lying, more firing and no reform.

Posted by: candycane1 | September 2, 2010 8:39 AM | Report abuse

In attacking Gray, Fenty sounded like a spoiled, bratty kid.

Posted by: linroy62 | September 2, 2010 8:47 AM | Report abuse

Secondary schools show an average gain of 14 percentage points in reading proficiency and 17 points in math.

But is there a NEAP test for high school that can help validate the DC-CAS tests. Otherwise, the high schools may just be teaching to the test better, and there may be no real improvement.

Posted by: educationlover54 | September 2, 2010 9:03 AM | Report abuse

In June 2009 I attended a DCPS informational workshop on graduation rate calculation. Much analysis had been done and they had decided on a new method that was based on individual student (vs. class) data. Unfortunately, we were told, this more realistic forumula would also result in a lower rate.

That this method still has not been employed 15 months later speaks to a questionable motive for the delay, one that I have to assume is tied to September 14.

Posted by: goldgirl96 | September 2, 2010 12:31 PM | Report abuse

"But NAEP is also where Fenty can legitimately point to "record test score improvement." Last year, math and reading scores for fourth- and eighth-graders in the District grew more than for peers in any other urban district that took the test."

Can this be called "improvement?" It doesn't compare DCPS to itself last year, but rather compares DCPS to other school districts.

For instance, if I grew 2 inches one year, and 1 inch the next year, but my out-of-town cousin didn't grow at all those years. What does this have to do with my growth rate?

Too deep for me; I'll ask Brandenburg.

Posted by: efavorite | September 2, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Brandenburg didn't address my direct question, but he did offer this info and insight:

"Look at this post:
http://wp.me/pGTPP-aL

the gist is that if you get rid of your low-performing members, your average score can rise quite handily, without you having to improve anything."


Posted by: efavorite | September 2, 2010 3:39 PM | Report abuse

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