D.C. School Test Results Reflect Utter Failure of “Reform” Policies

If this isn’t failure, what is?

The latest results of the DC-CAS, the District of Columbia’s high-stakes standardized test, show that the percentage of public school students judged “proficient” or better in reading has declined over the past five years in every significant subcategory except “white.”

This is important, and not just for Washington, D.C. It is an indictment of the whole corporatized education movement. During these five years, first Michelle Rhee and then her assistant/successor Kaya Henderson controlled DCPS and they did everything that the so-called “reformers” recommend: relying on standardized tests to rate schools, principals and teachers; closing dozens of schools; firing hundreds of teachers and principals; encouraging the unchecked growth of charters; replacing fully-qualified teachers with Teach For America and other non-professionals; adopting teach-to-the-test curricula; introducing computer-assisted “blended learning”; increasing the length of the school day; requiring an hour of tutoring before after-school activities; increasing hours spent on tested subjects and decreasing the availability of subjects that aren’t tested. Based on the city’s own system of evaluation, none of it has worked.

Here are the DC-CAS results copied directly from the DCPS website. These do not include charter schools; school authorities chose to hide those longitudinal results. But we know from a detailed memorandum by Broader, Bolder Approach to Education that—based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—results including charter schools would be little different than this.

DC-CAS_CHART_2009_to_2014.jpg

Over the past five years, the percentage of low income students (those who are eligible for free or reduced price school lunch) who score proficient or better for reading has declined. The same is true for black and Hispanic students, children in special education programs, and English language learners. The only major subgroup to improve (barely) is white children.

Similarly, when listed by geographic boundaries, reading results declined in six of eight wards. The only wards to show slight improvement are 2 (which includes Georgetown and Dupont Circle) and 3 (which is the whitest and most affluent in the city).

In truly Orwellian fashion, DCPS presents these disastrous numbers under the heading “Long-term progress in Reading has been maintained.” The Mayor, the DCPS Chancellor, and the powers-that-be all act like there’s nothing wrong.

But clearly, this is what failure looks like. If a school had scores like this over the past five years, it would be targeted for closure. If principals or teachers had scores like this, they would be fired. If a student had scores like this, s/he would be made to feel like a failure. Where is the accountability in this supposedly “data-driven” system?


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