Meaningless promises made: Annual test scores have been released for the D.C. public schools. This seems to mean all `D.C. public schools, traditional public and charter.
If you read the Washington Post's hard-copy report today, the headlines were mainly upbeat:
"District students improve on exam," the largest, boldest headline said. Perry Stein's news report topped the front page of the Metro section, beneath this triple headline:
District students improve on examsThat third headline was the kicker. You had to read to paragraph 10 before you got any actual data. But when you finally got there, you encountered these passing rates:
PARCC SCORES SHOW GRADUAL GROWTH
Hurdles remain in efforts to close achievement gap
Passing rates, DC public school studentsDistrict students may have "improved." But those gaps seem remarkably large.
PARCC tests, 2019
Math tests, all grades combined:
White kids: 78.8%
Black kids: 21.1%
Reading tests, all grades combined:
White kids: 85.0%
Black kids: 27.8%
That said, those giant gaps may not be massively meaningful. D.C.'s public schools tend to serve a standard population of urban black kids, offset by a smaller, vastly more advantaged population of upper-end white kids.
The black kids often come from low-income homes. The white kids typically come from wealthier homes, not uncommonly from double-PhD families.
For that reason, we may not have a lot to learn from those large achievement gaps. That said, the black kids' passing rates do seem extremely low.
With that in mind, we'll take a guess. These remarks from today's report may not be real meaningful either:
STEIN (8/20/19): D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Lewis D. Ferebee said that after seeing the math scores, he plans to rethink math teaching strategies and will increase access to interventions for struggling students.Taking nothing away from Ferebee, is he really going to "rethink math teaching strategies," given results of this year's math tests?
Ferebee said that fewer students scored a 1 or 2 on the exam—the lowest scores on the test—an encouraging development not captured in passing rates.
Last year, an even smaller percentage of D.C.'s black kids passed these same math tests. Ferebee is new to the D.C. schools, so he wasn't present to rethink strategies in the wake of those passing rates.
That said, what sorts of changes in strategy might he have in mind? The Washington Post doesn't seem to have asked. Nor can we say that we really expect much of a follow-up.
Then again, we have the way "city leaders" responded to these "improved" results. Starting right there in paragraph 1, Stein tells us this:
STEIN: The percentage of public school students passing a critical standardized exam in the District is gradually growing, according to results released Monday showing that students across all demographic groups improved on the English portion of the test. Progress in math proved more modest.How "gradually" are those passing rates growing? Last year, 20.7% of D.C.'s black kids passed their grade's math test. This year, the rate climbed all the way to 21.1%!
In announcing the results, city leaders celebrated the progress while acknowledging that further improvements are needed, particularly in the way the District approaches math. They stressed that achievement gaps are not closed overnight and that the goal is steady growth each year.
“For the fourth year, we are seeing continued, steady improvements, which means more students are performing at higher levels,” Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said at a news conference at Whittier Education Campus, which registered double-digit gains in the English and math portions of the exam.
“The achievement gap is still too wide,” Bowser said. “We can build a fairer and more equitable city when we know that our African American and Latino students are achieving at the same levels as their white peers.”
That is extremely gradual "progress." With apologies, Mayor Bowser is speaking the way a person speaks about things which simply don't matter.
We'll say this for former chancellor Rhee. She said this sort of thing isn't good enough every single time. In our view, she never seemed to have real ideas about the way to make things better. But in her favor, she never pretended that "continued, steady improvement" like this was anything like good enough.
You won't hear about this on "cable news." Of one thing you can feel quite certain:
On "cable news," nobody cares. They don't waste your time with this. They talk about Donald J. Trump.
Growth on the reading tests: Last year, 24.7% of D.C.'s black kids passed their grade's reading test. This year, the passing rate rose to 27.8%.
"City leaders celebrated the progress." As recorded above, 85.0% percent of the system's white kids passed.