Recent test scores show long-term improvement among D.C. students, despite concerns about cheating and a dip in reading proficiency this year at the elementary school level, city officials said.
Mayor Vincent C. Gray announced the results of the 2011 D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS) on Friday before a filled room at Safe Shores Child Advocacy Center in Northwest.
In remarks that often delved into the overall state of education in the District, Mr. Gray praised gains by secondary school students that include a 20-percent spike in math scores and 13.4 percent in reading over the past five years.
Secondary students, namely 7th, 8th, and 10th graders, saw increases of 2.7 percent in math and 1 percent in reading since 2010.
The entire battery of scores mark "dramatic overall progress" among the roughly 32,000 students who take the test citywide, State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley said.
The announcement of the city's official barometer for student progress marked the first such measure under D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who was confirmed by the city council last month.
She is stepping out from the shadow of former schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee, a polarizing figure who brought aggressive and modern techniques to education reform under former Mayor Adrian M. Fenty.
On Friday, Mr. Gray and Ms. Henderson were challenged on the years of comparison, recent declines in reading during crucial years and whether tighter security affected the dip amid investigations into cheating during previous rounds of the D.C.-CAS.
Officials pitched a 1.1 percentage drop in reading among elementary school students from 2010 to 2011 as a "stabilization" after a more precipitous drop from 2009 to 2010. Elementary students also sustained a one-year drop of 0.8 percent in math.
The mayor noted the city has not had the chance to "drill down" into the data and its implications.
"Are we concerned about it? Absolutely," he said.
Ms. Henderson said she welcomed an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education and the D.C. Inspector General into charges of cheating in some classrooms in recent years. She called for an investigation after a report by USA Today revealed an unusually high level of erasures on some standardized test sheets.
In other remarks, Mr. Gray said education is a "liberator," and improvement is required to fill the gap between skill sets of available jobs in the city and the abilities of D.C. youth.
"Only 30 percent of the jobs are filled by people who live in the District of Columbia," he said.
He also said the influx of charter schools, "misunderstood" by some critics, creates healthy competition among schools and generates progress.
Test data show charter schools recorded the greatest gains in testing compared to last year, while the traditional public schools saw a larger proportion of improvement in the long-term, from 2007.
Responding to a reporter, Mr. Gray said he viewed improvement as part of a holistic effort than "vindication" of Ms. Rhee.
"I think it's clear that it can continue without her," Mr. Gray said of the rising scores. "I have said all along that education reform cannot be a function of one person.
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