Standardized test scores are supposed to bring the hammer of accountability down on teachers, principals and schools. When scores don’t grow as expected, evaluations suffer, career trajectories flatten, jobs can be lost. Schools that miss out on the still-coveted AYP seal of approval face questions from parents and elected officials.
But for the D.C. school system as a whole, this year’s so-so showing will come without cost--even though the District fell short of what it promised the federal government in its successful 2010 application for $75 million in Race to the Top funding. D.C. projected a statewide (DCPS and public charters) reading proficiency of 56.6 percent in 2011. It came in at 43.9 percent for the elementary grades and 48.2 percent at the secondary level. Same for math scores, which fell about eight points short of the projected 56.1
DCPS gave the same assurances to the quartet of private foundations that have committed tens of millions of dollars to the new teachers’ contract.
A senior U.S. Department of Education official, who asked for anonymity because he is not authorized to speak publicly on the issue, said the District’s four -year grant is not at risk, and that the city will be judged by its overall capacity for reform in such areas as tougher teacher evaluations and data systems to drive instructional and personnel decisions.
“I don’t get the sense that this would be the kind of thing they get dinged for,” he said of the scores.
Private donations became a hot issue last year when it was learned that the foundations (Walton, Broad, Robertson and Arnold) helping to fund the teachers’contract reserved the right to reconsider their support if DCPS leadership changed hands in a way they didn’t like. That was all moot when Kaya Henderson was named interim chancellor after Michelle Rhee’s resignation.
Cate Swinburn, executive director of the DC Public Education Fund, the nonprofit fundraising arm of DCPS that handles the private largesse, said the scores are not an issue.
“Funders generally consider the full set of milestones and metrics in aggregate as part of an annual or semi-annual review of a grant,” said Swinburn, who once held the same job in New York City. “In my time in New York City and now here, I have never had a funder withdraw their commitment based on performance milestones,” she said.
And what about Rhee? In the fall of 2008, the then-chancellor offered 2011 projections in a performance plan submitted to the D.C. Council. She placed DCPS elementary reading proficiency at 54 percent (it’s 43) and elementary math at 48 percent (it came in at 42.3). Her projections were closer to the mark at the secondary level, with reading at 47 percent (it was 44.2). Secondary math was the sole category that performed better than expected — 46.4 percent to 44 percent.
“If you don’t set ambitious goals, you can’t move forward,” said Hari Sevugan, a spokesman for StudentsFirst, Rhee’s new reform advocacy group. Like District officials last week, he cited the four-year, double-digit growth in secondary reading and math scores and gains on the NAEP as measures of Rhee’s success.