D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown (D) tried asking the question every way he knew how. And to avoid answering, DCPS chief academic officer Carey Wright did everything but invoke the Fifth Amendment.

The result was a more-than-awkward standoff near the end of Thursday’s hearing on Brown’s two latest education initiatives. One would require all D.C. high school students to take either the SAT or ACT and apply to at least one post-secondary institution. The other is an early warning and intervention pilot to track students in grades 4 to 9 using indicators of high school and college readiness.

D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) (Matt McClain/FOR THE WASHINGTON POST)

The bills got a mostly favorable reception from education advocates and community representatives. But a trio of top District school officials devoted most of their prepared statements to how wonderfully their agencies were already doing with the issues targeted by Brown’s measures.

Wright finished her prepared testimony without ever saying whether Chancellor Kaya Henderson supported the college prep bill. An increasingly frustrated Brown persisted in an attempt to find out.

“We certainly share the goals of the act and are excited to work with you to strengthen the bill,” said Wright.

“Is that a yes or is that a no?”

“What we would like to do is work with you on some of the things we have in place.”

“Have I ever not worked with you?”

“We’ll support the bill but we’d like to work with you to strengthen it little bit.”

A little later he tried again to get Wright to say whether she supported a compulsory SAT and college application.

“Do you support that or not support that?”

“I think we would support the bill. We will work with you to support the bill.”

“What does that mean? I don't understand that.”

Eventually Wright--speaking for herself--acknowledged that while she supported expanded participation in the SAT, she opposed adding new graduation requirements.

D.C. State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley was the most favorably disposed to Brown’s bills, although she deferred to the State Board of Education on the question of graduation requirements.

D.C. Public Charter School Board executive director Scott Pearson said the college prep bill was a non-starter because it stepped on the rights of the publicly-funded, independently-operated schools to decide on instructional methods. He said it was an example of a “creeping re-regulation of charter schools that steadily erodes the very basis of their success.”