Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) hailed the results as evidence that the city’s overhaul of public education — including the advent of mayoral control of the schools and the rapid growth of charters — is working.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re on the right path,” Gray said. “We just need to stay the course.”
The District, which initiated major school reforms in 2007, has served as a test case for often controversial policies — such as expanding school choice, eliminating teacher tenure and tying evaluations to test scores — which have since been adopted by a growing number of states.
The city has had persistently low test scores and lags behind most of the rest of the country on many academic measures. But between 2007 and 2013, proficiency rates in math and reading increased 18 percentage points on the D.C. tests, including a four point gain in the past year, to 51 percent.
Still, student performance remains uneven and far lower than anyone deems acceptable.
“These numbers are encouraging, but they are still completely inadequate,” said D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), chairman of the council’s Education Committee. Catania has introduced a suite of legislative proposals to again overhaul the schools, arguing that improvement has been too slow and inconsistent and that staying the course is not a solution. “Now is the time to continue to press ahead to look at what the barriers are that are prohibiting our kids from succeeding and remove them as quickly as possible.”
The D.C. tests, known as the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, are administered each spring to students in grades 3 through 8 and in grade 10. The tests offer a snapshot of student learning that officials use to judge schools, teachers and principals.
Students’ scores land them in one of four categories: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. The goal is to have students score proficient or better, meaning they meet grade-level standards. In the eighth grade, students are expected to understand the Pythagorean theorem and calculate the volume of cylinders and cones.
New math exams were introduced this year to test students’ ability to meet more rigorous Common Core standards, part of a national effort to standardize expectations for U.S. students. Reading tests were revised last year to align with the standards, which have been adopted by 45 states and the District.
Citywide, 53 percent of students are proficient in math and 49.5 percent are proficient in reading. While each subgroup of students — including economically disadvantaged children — made progress this year, achievement gaps remained stubbornly large: 92 percent of white students were proficient in reading, for example, compared with 52 percent of Hispanic students, 44 percent of black students and 42 percent of poor children.