After the Reading Test, Stumped by the Math

By Jay Mathews
Thursday, April 2, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

We recently received the results of the Degrees of Reading Power test for our sixth-grader, and I am perplexed by the letter from Arlington public schools that accompanied the test results, just as I was when our daughter took this test in second grade and fourth grade.

The letter states that DRP test scores range from "a low of 15- to a high of 99+ (a score exceeding the maximum of 99)." I am left wondering how any score, even in theory, can "exceed the maximum." Even well-educated parents who closely monitor their children's academic progress can't intuit their child's reading level without more context than the county provides with these test results.

The only context the county letter provides is that the national average DRP instructional score for sixth-graders tested in the fall is 56. It would be at least as useful to know the average for Arlington County students. On the Arlington public schools Web site, I was able to find that the average DRP instructional score for sixth-graders at Swanson Middle School in the fall was 71, which, I determined through further investigation, corresponds to a 10th-grade reading level.

If the national average score is the only information given by Arlington schools because the DRP test is used primarily to identify students who need remediation, perhaps kids who are found to read well above grade level should be exempt from the test after second grade, saving the school system the expense of testing proficient readers. If the test is intended to provide specific information about the reading levels of all students, then that information should be relayed with sufficient context to inform parents -- and used to provide appropriate classroom instruction.

Karen H. Lewis


That sound is me cheering for you and the other conscientious parents who help make our schools better and animate this column. Arlington schools spokeswoman Linda Erdos was also impressed. She said other parents had also contacted school officials about that tortured prose, and they have resolved to make future communications more parent friendly. The grade 4 letter has gotten a combing, with tangled language hopefully removed. "We are also working with parents and some of our advisory groups to develop added Web resources for parents to better explain the complexity of the many different tests that are administered throughout a child's educational experience," Erdos said.

Dear Extra Credit:

After reading the comments made by Barbara Bancroft Stein ["Are Older Teachers Too Jaded to Be Effective?" Feb. 19], I was uplifted. Finally, someone who actually gets it. Her words rung with the resonance of truth that has been clouded over by the constant upheaval of D.C. public schools leadership at almost every level for 20 years.

Her example of the principal at Shaw Middle School at Garnet-Patterson is not an isolated one. Last year at Coolidge High School, approximately 34 veteran teachers (with five years' or more experience) were told by the principal that they would not be offered a position at Coolidge for the coming school year. This was done with the approval of the chancellor, who has recently, along with the principal of Coolidge, given an interview on PBS with Bill Moyers degrading veteran teachers. In fact, the principal of Coolidge told Moyers that "if I had my way, I would get rid of 50 percent of the teachers at Coolidge," which turned out to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Although I give kudos to Ms. Stein for stating the obvious, her comments fail to address the elephant in the room: the increased number of not only young but white teachers being brought into D.C. schools with nonwhite populations. These teachers do not have the non-academic tools and skills to deal with young urban black children who have and are experiencing things they have never experienced and will never experience because of who they are and their background.

Harold C. Cox


I learned long ago it is best to judge teachers by how much their students learn, not by their ethnicity.

Dear Extra Credit:

For the past two years, my son attended Herndon High School part time for advanced math classes, and we found the ABABA BABAB schedule confusing. We had to frequently check the master schedule, as a given day of the week could be a "red" day or a "black" day.

My son is a freshman at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. Mondays are "anchor days," when the students attend all of their classes. Then they have an ABAB schedule for the rest of the week. That means that every day of the week has a consistent schedule. In addition, it allows for part-time teachers, since teachers can schedule to be at the school Monday, Tuesday and Thursday or Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On a more typical block schedule, part-time teachers would have to be available every day of the week, which does not seem practical.

I'm curious as to why all schools do not adopt this type of a block schedule, as I do not see a single downside to this solution.

Laurie Meyers


An intriguing suggestion. Anyone else have trouble with the way block schedules are done?

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