Wilson High rescinds policy of prohibiting sports for students who skip D.C. test

April 29, 2013

Wilson High School’s principal, who told parents that students could lose their eligibility to play school sports if they failed to show up for the District’s annual standardized testing, has rescinded the policy.

Principal Peter Cahall notified parents in an e-mail Friday that he had decided to reverse course, ending a policy that was intended to encourage participation in the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System, or DC CAS. Cahall said that tying the test to athletic eligibility was “not in line with the District of Columbia Public Schools.”

“Please understand that my intent was not to be punitive but to ensure that our school community met the requirement for schools to have at least a 95% participation rate,” the principal wrote to parents. “I apologize for any confusion or [undue] stress that this error has caused any of my scholars or parents.”

Schools are required to ensure that 95 percent of eligible students take the annual test under the federal No Child Left Behind law. Failure to reach that rate can result in sanctions.

Cahall added that although the city’s tests have no bearing on students’ futures, they can carry important consequences for staff members, whose jobs depend on raising test scores. The sports policy was intended to “protect the reputation of our school community and the people who serve our school,” he wrote.

Cahall did not immediately return a message from The Washington Post on Monday seeking comment.

The threat to ban students from athletics for failing to take a standardized test drew a strong reaction last week from some parents, who said it was a sign that the city is too focused on testing.

“Upon reflection and consultation with DCPS, Principal Cahall clarified his previous statement about sports and the DC CAS,” school system spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said. “Wilson staff and students continue to work hard on the DC CAS and look forward to another strong week.”

Teachers and principals at schools across the city have found creative ways, including pep rallies and music videos, to encourage students to take the tests seriously. The tests are tied to teacher evaluations and salaries, and there have been accusations of cheating — including recent wrong-to-right erasures at a D.C. charter school — that have led to efforts to tighten up security during testing.

Wilson offers incentives to test-takers, including raffle tickets for iPad minis and $50 Visa cards. Those rewards will cost the school about $16,500 this year, officials said, down from about $30,000 last year.

Cahall had also told parents this month that students’ DC CAS test scores would appear on report cards, where they would be visible to colleges and prospective employers.

Salmanowitz clarified that while DC CAS scores will appear on report cards, they will not appear on the official transcripts that are required for many college applications.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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