Secondary and elementary school test scores are improving in Washington, D.C., according to the results of the DC Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) tests released July 8 by officials.

The DC CAS is an annual series of standardized tests given to third- to eighth-grade and 10th-grade students in D.C. public and charter schools that measure math and reading skills relative to the District’s standards.

According to the schools chancellor’s office, this year’s DC CAS preliminary test results show steady improvements among secondary students, with particularly strong boosts in seventh and eighth grades. Elementary school scores show stabilized levels after last year’s decline.

“We have much to celebrate and even more work to do. Incremental progress is not enough,” said Mayor Vincent Gray in a statement. “We, the collective ‘we,’ must ensure that each student can succeed and thrive in both the national and global economies.”

According to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE), which oversees the administration of the annual tests, since schools were placed under he authority of the mayor’s office in 2007, DC CAS scores at the elementary level have increased 5.1 percent in reading and 12.8 percent in math, with scores stabilizing following a decrease in 2010.

Furthermore, OSSE reports secondary scores have increased by 13.4 percent in reading and 19.9 percent in math since 2007. Last year’s increases were 1.1 percent in reading and 3.3 percent in math.

District leaders and officials have congratulated the students, teachers and parents for their contributions to the progress.

“I want to congratulate all of the students and schools that have shown improvement on this year’s DC CAS, and everyone who supported them: teachers, principals, administrators, and of course, parents,” said D.C. Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown in a statement.

Noting the tremendous pressure and ongoing challenges being faced by D.C. teachers, the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) also applauded the faculty for their hard work and dedication in helping to improve and maintain test scores. “Real success happens in the classroom and substantial credit must be given to our teachers,” said WTU President Nathan Saunders in a statement after the DC CAS results were revealed. “Substantial progress will only be achieved with the involvement of educational stakeholders, including teachers and parents. Yet, the improvements in DCPS test scores are a testament to the competence, commitment and perseverance of our teachers in spite of the many challenges.”

The Council of the Great City Schools, the nationally recognized organization that provides support to America’s urban public schools, was pleased with the newly released DC CAS results and remains hopeful for the continued success of the District’s schools.

“We were encouraged by the secondary results,” said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council. “We don’t normally see consistent upward movements in math and reading scores at that level. We are hopeful that the new administration in D.C. schools will focus its efforts even more closely in the classroom instruction to continue student achievements.”

While the DC CAS results show solid progress in the District’s public and charter schools, some argue that the results do not accurately reflect the progress, or lack thereof, in low-income districts that service African-American students.

“I am very supportive of Mayor Gray and Chancellor Henderson but you cannot be supportive of the dismal test scores we receive, year after year, that clearly reflect that thousands of African-American boys and girls are being short changed and sentenced to a life of poverty, jail, and death,” said D.C. Councilman Marion Barry in a statement released after reviewing this year’s and previous year’s scores.

While school-specific results have not yet been released by the OSSE, Barry asserts that schools in low-income areas, such as those in Wards 8, 7 and 5, continue to perform at levels significantly lower than higher-income areas.

According to Barry, in 2010, elementary student scores in Ward 8 showed math and reading proficiency levels at 35 percent, with some scores dropping as low as 14 percent. Scores at the secondary level showed similar results. In contrast, higher-income schools, like those is Ward 3, reported proficiency scores exceeding 75 percent for elementary students and 65 percent for secondary students.

“This is a tragedy,” stated Barry. “These test results paint a crystal clear picture – equal per pupil funding in education and similar instruction methods, resources, and classroom environments do not produce similar results in low-income communities. It simply does not work.”

DCPS shares in Barry’s concerns. “We know we have a lot of work to do in raising proficiency levels in all our schools, and understand the challenges ahead particularly in terms are closing the achievement gap,” stated DCPS in an e-mailed statement. “We plan to analyze school-level DC CAS data when it becomes available in early August to determine the best supports to help boost proficiency among all students.”

District schools have until July 22 to review the data from the preliminary results and report any corrections or appeals to the OSSE. Final school assessments will be available on the OSSE website by early August.


Ashley Crawford

Special to the AFRO