Fewer than a third of public school students in the District are considered “college and career ready” in math and English language arts, according to test scores released Thursday that showed gains in both subjects, particularly in the traditional public schools.
The share of students who met the benchmark rose 4 points in English language arts to 31 percent and 2 points in math to 27 percent. Still, achievement gaps persisted and in some cases widened. In D.C. Public Schools, more than 50 percentage points separates the performance of students in Ward 3, encompassing affluent Northwest neighborhoods, from those in Ward 7, where the school population is largely poor and black.
City officials celebrated overall improvements Thursday while noting that there is work to be done.
“We know that none of these things have happened by accident: 10 years of robust commitment to changing our schools, from buildings like we see here, to investments in our teachers and their professional development, to curriculum that reflects what our children need to be successful in college and career,” said Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) Thursday as she stood in the refurbished library of Watkins Elementary School on Capitol Hill. There, she and other officials cut a ribbon on a $39 million upgrade.
DCPS, which educates a little more than half of the city’s 90,000 public schoolchildren, surpassed the performance of charter schools in English language arts and math by small margins. The charter schools also made gains, now boasting 10 straight years of rising scores.
The computerized Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC, grades students on a 5-point scale in English language arts and math. Students take the test in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. A 4 or 5 on the exam is supposed to indicate that a student is “college and career ready.”
About 29 percent of charter school students reached that mark in English language arts, while slightly less than 27 percent did in math. Those figures represent slight gains over last year.
In DCPS, nearly 32 percent passed in English language arts and more than 27 percent passed in math, gains of 6 points and 4 points, respectively. Some schools made double-digit gains, including Wilson High School, where last year officials suspect some students intentionally tanked the exam or had scheduling conflicts to Advanced Placement tests that have since been resolved.
“This is a pretty remarkable thing, to continue to see gains and improvements year after year after year,” said Hanseul Kang, the state superintendent for education. Kang said it shows initiatives to improve public education are “showing up as a real difference in outcomes for students.”
Leaders in DCPS and the D.C. Public Charter School Board, which oversees 120 charter schools, praised the progress, while acknowledging room for growth. DCPS also made progress in narrowing the achievement gap between students from low-income households and their more affluent peers — a gap that has been widening nationally over the last few decades.
DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who took the helm in February, lauded the efforts of educators and noted improvements across the board, including special education students, economically disadvantaged students and all racial groups.
“It’s a testament to the tremendous work of our educators, tremendous leadership and the support on our community that we have been able to focus our efforts so all of our students are improving across the District,” Wilson said. Still, the achievement gap widened as white and Asian students made larger gains than black and Hispanic students.
Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. charter board, said scores for charter school students have risen even as their population of economically challenged and special education students has grown. He said the boost in scores in both sectors shows how the two can coexist.
“For our friends around the country who say that a robust charter sector weakens the traditional school district, I would say to them, take a look at D.C.,” Pearson said.
In DCPS, 20 percent of students considered economically disadvantaged scored 4 or 5 on math, up more than 6 points from last year. And in English, 24 percent of students from low-income families in DCPS are now reaching benchmarks, an increase of 9 points.
Math and English scores for English language learners and special education students also improved.
DCPS spokeswoman Michelle Lerner attributed the gains, in part, to the day-to-day hard work of the district’s teachers.
“We have the best teacher force in the country and they are a huge voice in our district in helping us come up with curriculum,” Lerner said.
Last year, DCPS began a new model of professional development for teachers. Teachers meet weekly in grade-level and content teams, where they can analyze student work and “dig deeper into the curriculum,” Lerner said.
Lerner also credited citywide investments in social-emotional learning for enabling more students to remain in the classroom.
“We are implementing our work in an equitable way,” she said.