Reforms Help D.C. Test Scores Rise

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

TEST RESULTS showing D.C. public school students making steady gains this year in reading and math are, as Mayor Adrian M. Fenty proclaimed, "very good news." Nonetheless, it is hard to celebrate when more than half of the system's students still aren't proficient in the basic skills. So the proper response to the latest data on student achievement must be one of resolve -- to continue the critical reforms started under mayoral control that seem to be making a difference for the city's troubled schools.

Reading and math scores for elementary and secondary students rose from last year, according to preliminary results of the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System released yesterday. Gains in the elementary grades were most pronounced, with a boost of four percentage points in reading and of eight points in math, making 49 percent of students proficient in both subjects. On the secondary level, reading proficiency grew to 41 percent from 39 percent, and math proficiency increased from 36 percent to 40 percent.

This is the second year since Mr. Fenty took control of the schools and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee was put in charge, and the second year that test scores increased. Last year's gains were more dramatic, a fact that Ms. Rhee attributed to being able to make some easy fixes in the first year; the closing of many schools this year, necessary but disruptive, also probably had a negative impact. Still, the progress is real and heartening. Consider, for instance, that less than a third of elementary students were proficient in math before 2007, and that the system is now close to half of those students being at grade level.

Every category of students -- including the economically disadvantaged -- showed improvement. The achievement gap between African American and white students shrank. And schools with new leadership showed higher than average improvement. Mr. Fenty is right that there is still "a long way to go," but the evidence suggests that the schools are headed in the right direction.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company