D.C. Schools Fall Short of Test Goals, Superintendent Says

By V. Dion Haynes
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 7, 2006

The number of District schools that failed to make academic benchmarks increased this year, according to test results D.C. School Superintendent Clifford B. Janey plans to release today. At the same time, he plans to cut the equivalent of almost five instructional days to accommodate more teacher training.

Last year, 81 of 147 schools failed to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law. But this year, "there will be a larger number," said Bill Caritj, assistant superintendent for educational accountability and assessment.

A slide in student achievement, education experts say, is fairly typical for a school system that has introduced a new assessment.

In April, the school system switched from the Stanford 9 test, which had been in use for eight years, to the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System. The new exam incorporated short-answer responses, whereas the Stanford 9 used mainly multiple-choice questions. The test was administered in the spring to students in grades 3 through 8, as well as 10th grade.

"The reading questions require students to make more inferences and understand the author's purpose," Caritj said yesterday. The math test placed "more emphasis on algebra and geometry."

Last year, students who scored in the 40th percentile, which means 60 percent of the students scored higher, were considered proficient. But today, Janey is expected to discuss plans to significantly raise that level. He also will discuss what the school system will do to boost achievement in low-performing schools.

One part of Janey's plan -- taking time away from instruction to train teachers -- is drawing fire from parents.

Tracy Zorpette, who has two children at Murch Elementary School in Northwest Washington, is among many parents who are upset about Janey's plan to cut nine half-days of instruction -- the equivalent of almost a full school week -- off the school calendar to accommodate teacher training.

"Parents understand the need for professional development, especially as new academic standards are introduced. But since most District schools failed to make adequate progress under No Child Left Behind, we don't understand why these trainings have to be done at the expense of instructional time," Zorpette said.

With the change, she said, the school system would have "one of the shortest academic calendars in the country."

School board member Victor A. Reinoso (District 2) said in an e-mail that "the importance of actual time in the classroom cannot be underestimated."

The administration and the Washington Teachers' Union, which devised the calendar, "should be prevailed upon to withdraw the demand of nine additional half-days of professional development," Reinoso said.

Dale A. Talbert, the system's deputy chief for accountability, and union officials did not return phone calls seeking comment on the proposed calendar change.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company