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D.C.’s Jefferson Middle School rocked that CAS

Jefferson Academy teacher Greg Dohmann created this parody of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” to get his students excited for the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System test, which is given to students each year. (The Washington Post)

“I’m gonna rock that CAS,” Jefferson Middle School seventh-graders promised last spring in a hit music video, a version of Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” meant to get their classmates psyched up for the District’s annual standardized tests.

And, according to test scores released last week, they made good on their word.

Nearly two-thirds of Jefferson students scored proficient in math and 45 percent scored proficient in reading — double-digit gains over 2012 test scores.

Seventh-graders at the Southwest D.C. middle school did particularly well: 77 percent were proficient in math and 60 percent were proficient in reading.

“It’s not all about the test, but it’s a good way to show that we’re making a lot of progress and pushing them to achieve,” said seventh-grade math teacher Greg Dohmann.

Dohmann is the musical mastermind who not only wrote the lyrics for the “Rock that CAS” video, but also makes cameo appearances alongside his students. Last year was his first at Jefferson, which Principal Natalie Gordon is trying to transform into one of the city’s top middle schools.

Gordon had experience leading two D.C. charter schools — Friendship Tech Prep and D.C. Prep’s middle school — before she was tapped for Jefferson, which was struggling with low test scores. In 2011, she led the sixth-grade academy, and starting in 2012 she also took responsibility for the seventh and eighth grades.

Calling herself “a bit of a disciplinarian,” Gordon said she has focused on changing the culture inside the school, introducing systems routines that have cut down on disruptions that cut into learning time. When students change classes, for example, it's not a free-for-all in the hallways; kids walk in straight lines with a teacher escort.

“People think they should be able to transition on their own, but what had happened was a whole lot of chaos going on in the hallway,” Gordon said, adding that suspensions dropped 50 percent at Jefferson last year.

The school has also introduced an International Baccalaureate program in an attempt to attract families seeking a more rigorous academic experience. And Gordon said the building is filled with teachers, many of them who have come to Jefferson in the last two years, who are talented and hardworking.

“We’ve definitely had some challenges bringing in all these new ideas at once across the school community, but there were a ton of successes this year,” Gordon said. “We have an awesome team at our school.”

Emma Brown writes about national education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.



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