Journalists like me get into ruts. We pick one way of describing data and stick with it. I tell myself that I would confuse readers if I made changes. That might be an excuse for laziness and lack of imagination.
A habit I share with many education writers is presenting school test results one way: the percentage of students who score proficient or above. I ignore a subset of that proficient group, the percentage who achieve at the higher, advanced level.
The advanced percentages are impressive in the Washington suburbs, because they have some of the highest average family incomes in the country. The District is different. Most of its public school students are from low-income families. But I have been noticing some D.C. schools with impressive percentages of students scoring not just proficient but advanced. What would those schools look like if we reported that higher order of achievement? In the long term, don’t we want as many students as possible to be learning at the advanced level?
Jeff Noel of Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), a pro-charter organization that watches these numbers closely, helped me create a list of D.C. schools with the largest portion of advanced students.
Here are the top 25, followed by two numbers. The first is the percentage of D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test-takers whose family incomes were low enough to qualify for federal lunch subsidies. The second, in bold, is the basis for the rank: the sum of the percentage of students who scored advanced in reading and the percentage who did the same in math. (I excluded schools with a high number of alternate tests, designed for special education.)
1. School Without Walls (magnet high school): 15, 107
2. Janney Elementary: 0, 86
3. Deal Junior High: 23, 81
4. Murch Elementary: 16, 79
5. Key Elementary: 0, 78
6. Banneker High (magnet): 54, 77
7. Mann Elementary: 0, 74
8. Lafayette Elementary: 7, 68
9. Oyster-Adams Bilingual (4th-8th): 33, 66
10. Washington Latin Charter Middle: 6, 64
11. Stoddert Elementary: 20, 58
12. D.C. Prep Charter Middle: 77, 55
13. Capital City Charter (elementary): 41, 49
14. KIPP KEY (charter middle): 76, 47
15. Eaton Elementary: 14, 45
16. Hyde-Addison Elementary: 22, 45
17. KIPP College Prep (charter high school): 83, 42
18. Wilson High School: 42, 41
19. Haynes Charter (3rd-8th): 69, 40
20. Height Community Charter Butler (elementary): 100, 40
21. Ellington School of Arts (high school): 42, 39
22. Stuart-Hobson Middle: 40, 37
23. Two Rivers Charter-Elementary: 28, 37
24. KIPP WILL (charter middle): 82, 36
25. Ross Elementary: 40, 36
As in the suburbs, family income in the District has a strong effect on advanced scores. Thirteen of the schools on the list, and nine of the top 10, have a student poverty rate below the national average of 40 percent.
The only school above that average in the top 10 is Banneker, a magnet that picks students based on academic success. Number one School Without Walls has that same advantage, although it also has a much smaller poverty rate.
Could alleged tampering with tests have affected the ranking? D.C. officials have not released data on which schools had unusual levels of wrong-to-right erasures in 2011. The only school on this list that has faced significant erasure questions in the past was Wilson, where eight classrooms were flagged for erasures in 2008. What those data mean, we still don’t know.
Of the 12 schools on the list with student poverty rates at or above 40 percent, seven are charters. All schools on the list with poverty rates above 60 percent are charters. But on average, regular D.C. schools and charter schools do about the same on this measure, with one out of 10 students scoring advanced.
Both types of public schools have had some success producing students even better than proficient. It would be useful to learn how they did that.