Few Schools Meet Goal on New Tests

By V. Dion Haynes and Theola Labbé
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, September 8, 2006

Only 28 of the District of Columbia's 146 public schools last year met academic benchmarks on a new city test, a situation that will require massive intervention efforts to reverse, school system officials said yesterday.

School officials consider the test a more accurate gauge of student performance than one used previously. Seven secondary schools -- including one middle school, Hardy -- and 21 elementary schools scored a passing grade. The widespread poor performance pushed the number of schools failing to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law from 81 in 2005 to 118.

Parents who want to move their child to a better public school now will have almost no place to go. Until now, the school system's main remedy for students in failing schools was a provision in federal law that allows them to transfer to a higher-performing school in the city.

Moreover, school system officials said that charter schools, which took the same exam, fared just as poorly. Only a small number of the 51 charter schools that administered the test made adequate yearly progress, according to William Caritj, an assistant superintendent. He did not provide the names or the number of failing charter schools.

"We're in a poor state of affairs in the District. This shows that we as parents have no options," said Jackie Pinckney-Hackett, a parent advocate and a candidate for the Board of Education. "Parents who can afford it will put their kids in a private placement," she added. "But others will simply suffer."

Experts, though, cautioned that such results are typical when a school system switches to a new test. They said the results marked a base line that can be used to measure future progress.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a coalition of large urban school systems, said this year's results are a sign that the District will have to invest more in getting students to perform at a higher standard.

"This says that the school district has a lot of work to do. It's a tougher assessment but it's a more honest assessment about the kids," Casserly said. "It falls on the school system to figure out a way to give them the extra help they need.

"This is a completely different kind of test, and it's hard to compare it to any other test that the District has done before," Casserly said.

In April, the school system replaced the Stanford 9 test, which had been used for eight years, with the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System. The No Child Left Behind law requires school systems to administer exams that are tied to their own academic standards and classroom instruction; the Stanford 9 tests students according to nationwide standards.

Also, the Stanford 9 was made up mainly of multiple-choice questions, while the new test includes numerous questions requiring students to provide short answers.

The federal law requires school systems to have all students proficient in reading, math and other subjects by 2014. Each school system sets its own benchmarks, raising the scores every few years, to ensure that its students meet the requirement.

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