THE ANNOUNCEMENT of historic achievement levels by D.C. public school students on annual math and reading tests was accompanied by reams of numbers, bar charts and graphs. But the best encapsulation of the accomplishment was the fist-pump-punctuated “Yes!” from D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D). It was a reaffirmation of the reform of public education launched in 2007, a rebuke to the naysayers who want us to believe reform has failed and a warning to those who would interfere with policies that are clearly gaining traction.
Data from the 2013 D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System released Tuesday had good news for students in both the traditional school system and in public charter schools.
D.C. Public Schools students improved their proficiency in math and reading by 3.6 percentage points and 3.9 percent percentage points respectively over the previous year, bringing proficiency rates (49.5 percent for math and 47.4 percent for reading) to the highest level in memory. All subgroups — black, Hispanic, white, special education and others — improved in math and most improved in reading; students in every ward and students in every grade improved their performance over 2012, and rates of advanced proficiency were up while rates for below proficiency were down in both subjects.
Charter schools, which enroll 43 percent of public school students, had even more impressive results, posting slightly higher average scores than their traditional counterparts and showing a 58.6 percent proficiency rate in math and 53 percent proficiency rate in reading. Particularly noteworthy were the gains made by English- language learners and economically disadvantaged students attending charter schools.
The citywide composite proficiency rate for both charters and traditional schools was 51.3 percent. Clearly, that is nothing to be satisfied with; much more improvement is needed. But there has been remarkable progress since 2007, when then-Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) took over the schools and the citywide proficiency rate was 33.5 percent.
There’s been a lot of gnashing of teeth of late about the pace of reform and whether another overhaul is in order. The state test scores, showing gains that are consistent with the federally administered National Assessment of Educational Progress, should put those notions to rest. Public education in D.C. is on a healthy trajectory, thanks to the growth of quality charters and reforms that are taking root in the traditional system. These include weeding out ineffective teachers, overhauling teacher evaluations and pay, putting new curricula in place, supporting good teachers and measuring results.
School improvement doesn’t occur overnight. Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson quotes an adage from Abraham Lincoln to describe her approach: “Be sure you put your feet in the right place, then stand firm.”
For years, District schoolchildren suffered as school superintendents and school agendas came and went. Now they are benefiting from the consistent implementation of a vision of muscular school reform laid out by former chancellor Michelle A. Rhee and ably continued by Ms. Henderson, who had been her deputy. Mr. Gray, whose steady support has been crucial, said it best Tuesday: “I don’t think there’s any doubt we’re on the right path. We just need to stay the course.”
Read more about this issue: