Schools Warn of Testing Setback

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 28, 2006

D.C. school officials released preliminary data from a student assessment exam yesterday showing a likely increase in the number of elementary schools that fail to meet federal academic targets in math and reading.

The school system administered the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System for the first time in April, and the results show that a substantial number of elementary schools may fail to meet the "adequate yearly progress" required by federal law.

School officials estimated that 79 elementary schools, up from 35 last year, may not meet the reading standard and that 90 elementary schools, up from 26 last year, may fall short of the math standard.

Some officials said the results are not totally unexpected. They said school systems often experience a drop in scores when they switch to a new test. Still, some school board members expressed alarm.

In April, the school system replaced the long-standing Stanford 9 achievement test with the new comprehensive assessment, devised to satisfy the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires school systems to develop tests based on what students are taught in the classroom.

School officials foresee little change in the number of secondary schools failing to meet academic targets this year. The number is expected to rise from 24 to 25 in reading and to remain at 27 in math.

In 2005, the final year of the Stanford 9, about 80 of 145 District schools failed to show adequate progress in reading, math or both.

Passing the new exam "is more difficult, and there will be consequences for [inadequate] yearly progress," Bill Caritj, assistant superintendent for educational accountability and assessment, told the Board of Education at a special meeting yesterday. The higher bar, he said, could "reduce the number of students deemed proficient."

The preliminary data presented to the school board showed that the percentage of students achieving proficiency could drop significantly. Among third-graders, for instance, 60 percent were deemed proficient in math in 2003-04, compared with 27 percent in the preliminary 2005-06 data. Among eighth-graders, 41 percent were proficient in reading in 2003-04, compared with 32 percent in 2005-06. The only improvement occurred among 10th-graders, whose proficiency level in reading rose from 22 percent to 28 percent. Officials used 2003-04 data for the comparison, because more grades were tested that year than in 2004-2005.

School officials, who are still verifying the data, said they expect to release official results from the spring exam next month.

This month, school officials, as required by the No Child Left Behind law, notified parents at 60 schools that failed to make adequate yearly progress in 2005 that they can transfer their children to higher-achieving schools in the system. School officials said that next month they probably will send letters to parents at many more schools.

"The numbers are telling us that far more of our schools are challenged than we initially thought," Board of Education Vice President Carolyn N. Graham said after the meeting. "These scores are going to drive us in some directions we've not thought about before."

Given that only 14 of about 100 elementary schools made adequate progress, Graham said, the system is quickly running out of higher-achieving schools to which to send students.

"The logic behind sending and receiving [schools] no longer applies," she said. "A whole new strategy needs to be used."

In another matter, the school board voted to study how the system exercises state-level authority in overseeing such matters as student assessment, charter schools and special education.

Discussion of the study was prompted by a Senate Appropriations Committee directive this month for the school board to hire a consulting firm to draft legislation on how the system could shift those state powers to a newly established independent entity or the mayor's State Education Office.

Board members backed away from a resolution supporting the committee proposal, which is expected to go to the full Senate in the fall. Instead, they endorsed an effort by Superintendent Clifford B. Janey and the U.S. Department of Education to establish a clearer separation between its state and municipal roles.

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