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Posted at 11:28 AM ET, 03/ 4/2011

School reform study: Reliance on test scores 'naive'

By Bill Turque

The District has made a good-faith effort to implement the 2007 law that placed public schools under mayoral control, but there is no evidence that the change in governance has been a factor in improved standardized test scores, according to the first major independent study of D.C. school reform.

The National Research Council, the research arm of the National Academies, said in its report Friday that it is premature to draw sweeping conclusions about the effectiveness of school reform under the Public Education Reform Amendment Act (PERAA). But the report is likely to reignite a simmering debate about the test-centered culture of D.C. schools and other systems across the country.

Researchers issued a strong caution against using what they called the "modest improvement" in test scores over the past four years as evidence that mayoral control had improved learning in D.C. schools. They said such a conclusion required more rigorous analysis of students' socioeconomic status, along with a better grasp of the District's complex and rapidly shifting demographics.

"In the meantime, naive aggregate comparison of test scores among race-ethnic groups in the District should be interpreted critically and cautiously," the study said.

The study is the first in a series of evaluations required by the school reform law. After months of political squabbling and stalemate over the choice of an evaluator, then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty and then-D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray settled on the National Research Council in 2009.

The committee assembled by the research council includes a number of prominent scholars and practitioners, including University of California at Berkeley law school dean Christopher Edley, University of Wisconsin sociologist Robert M. Hauser, former Long Beach and San Diego school superintendent Carl A. Cohn and Jon Fullerton, head of Harvard University's Center for Education Policy and Research.

The main focus of this initial study is to offer the city suggestions on the best way to approach its evaluation of school reform.

By Bill Turque  | March 4, 2011; 11:28 AM ET
Categories:  Test scores  
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for the full press release.

Posted by: incredulous | March 4, 2011 11:49 AM | Report abuse

Darn it. I thought "naive aggregate comparison of test scores" WAS the Rhee miracle in DC. Why'd we do that for those three years then?

Posted by: Trulee | March 4, 2011 10:13 PM | Report abuse

I guess we are back to the chalk-board. I mean back to the smart board to regroup and reattempt an educational way of improving education. Remember our children deserve better. To be forewarned about a strong caution on how one will interpret the results, leads me to believe that the committee was not too confident in supplying final results.

Posted by: mlr1960 | March 5, 2011 5:09 AM | Report abuse

By the time someone figures out how to educate today's children, the children will be grandparents. This school system (DCPS) is such a sham and the shell-game is played on children daily. There is no one person who has the answer, we just unloaded a sham of a "wanna-be-superintendent" M. Rhee. I can only hope that Mayor, Gray will hire a real superintendent of DCPS.

Posted by: fivetogo | March 5, 2011 1:29 PM | Report abuse

The data in the chart in Saturday’s Post shows that the percentage of Grade 8 students who were proficient (or better) on the NAEP tests, inched up from 8% in 2007 to 11% in 2009 for math and from 12% in 2007 to 13% in 2009 for reading. Yes, improvements, but not significant improvements. The percentage of Grade 8 students who were proficient (or better) on the D.C. CAS tests – the test teachers teach to, increased from 33% in 2007 to 42% in 2009 for math and from 31% in 2007 to 45% in 2009 for reading. Yes, improvements, but it still left most students not proficient in math and reading.

In contrast, here is the type of improvement that serious improvement in the program can bring:
“Here's a little math problem: In 2005, just 45% of the fifth-graders at [inner-city, Title 1] Ramona Elementary School in Hollywood scored at grade level on a standardized state test. In 2006, that figure rose to 76%. ... The difference between the two years may have been Singapore math [textbooks]. “ Actually, credit goes to Singapore math and professional development from math professor Yoram Sagher, who is mentioned later in the article, “At L.A. school, Singapore math has added value” in The Los Angeles Times, March 9, 2008. This article notes: “Ramona easily qualifies for federal Title 1 funds, which are intended to alleviate the effects of poverty. Nine of every 10 students at the school are eligible for free or reduced-price meals (FARM). For the most part, these are the children of immigrants, the majority from Central America, some from Armenia. Nearly six in 10 students speak English as a second language.”

Posted by: Dancis1 | March 5, 2011 10:54 PM | Report abuse

Did I miss something here? What does the color of a student's skin or the econamic arrangement in the lunch room have to do with their ability to learn? Oh, I forgot, the poor and students of color are at risk" so we need to created dummied down classes for them and then twist our statistics like a pretzel to get more federal dollars.

It should now be clear to all that this money hued system will never reform itself. America's government schools are like agriculture in the old Soviet Union. Each year a new "reform" is trouped out, only to be followed by the annual excuse for the crop failure.

Posted by: trahlstrom | March 6, 2011 11:01 AM | Report abuse

Too late "fivetogo",

Haven't you heard the latest? Gray will take the lazy man's way out and appoint Kaya Henderson as the permanent chancellor this week. Henderson is about as far away from a "real" leader as we are from planet Saturn.

Another Sham.....

Posted by: teachdc | March 7, 2011 3:40 PM | Report abuse

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