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Answer Sheet
Posted at 02:30 PM ET, 07/08/2011

D.C.’s masterpiece of obfuscation

If you took at face value the press release that D.C. Public Schools issued about the just-released results of the 2011 D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System exams, you might think that great progress has been made in the city’s classrooms.

What the press release really shows is that the city’s new mayor, Vincent C. Gray (D), and the city’s new schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, are just at good at spinning and obfuscating as the previous mayor, Adrian M. Fenty (D), and the erstwhile chancellor, Michelle Rhee, when it comes to talking about student progress.

Here’s what the 2011 scores really showed, according to my colleague Bill Turque: a “mostly flat trend line for achievement in the city’s school system compared to the year before.”

The pass rates for elementary reading were down 1.1 percentage points, to 43 percent, Turque wrote, and for elementary math were down 0.8 points, to 42.3 percent. The pass rate in secondary grades for reading rose 1 point, to 44.2 percent, and in secondary math, it rose 2.7 points, to 46.4 percent.

That’s not a lot to write home about, but what the school system’s release stresses is “solid growth” in secondary math, and, instead of concentrating on differences in scores from last year — an annual comparison that is traditionally made — it talks about the progress made since 2007, when Rhee became chancellor and instituted reforms that made test scores even more important than they had been before in decision-making on teacher and school evaluations.

“We have made important progress in all of our public schools since 2007 when we placed our schools under the authority of the mayor,” Gray said today. “We have much to celebrate and even more work to do.”

The release, of course, didn’t mention the investigation under way into suspicions of widespread cheating on these tests in previous years. So Turque raised the issue at a press conference where the scores were released, asking officials if they thought the scores were flat because of increased security for the 2011 test. Officials said they had no reason to think so, and then kept talking up the scores.

Turque also asked Gray whether he thought that the D.C. Inspector General’s investigation into the allegations of widespread cheating, made in a USA Today investigation released in March,was on track.

Henderson asked the D.C. inspector general to investigate at the end of March, and Turque just discovered that so far only 10 people have been interviewed.

How did Gray respond? He told Turque he would talk to Inspector General Charles W. Willoughby about stepping things up.

Rhee and Fenty often touted rising test scores as proof of the success of her reforms, while ignoring questions raised several years ago about possible cheating.

The obfuscation goes on.

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By  |  02:30 PM ET, 07/08/2011

 
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