Standardized test scores for D.C. public and charter schools are the highest they have been in six years, an accomplishment officials on Tuesday said should be applauded but also serve as motivation to continue to raise the bar.
The D.C. office of the state superintendent of education released the 2013 Comprehensive Assessment System scores, showing that 48.4 percent of public school students were proficient in math and reading while 55.8 percent of charter school students were at a proficiency level.
"This is a day for all of us to be proud of the direction we've taken in the city," said Deputy Mayor for Education Abigail Smith, addressing a crowded auditorium at Kelly Miller Middle School in Northeast. "But we haven't arrived. We are not where we need to be and none of us would suggest that we are."
Results from the comprehensive testing show 51.3 percent of all students in the District are performing at proficient levels, a 4 percent rise from 2012 and a 17.8 percent rise since 2007. Math proficiency levels increased 3.9 percent to 53.0 percent, while reading scores rose 4.1 percent to a 49.5 percent proficiency level. In 2007, scores for both math and reading were below 37 percent proficiency.
"Statewide proficiency is far too low," D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray said. "This isn't an easy path. It's hard work every day. These results come at a turning point for education in the city."
The District adopted the Common Core State Standards Initiative in 2010 and is in the midst of a five-year effort which includes an emphasis on reading and math. Forty-five states, the District and several U.S. territories use the Common Core standards as a way to measure education, although a number of states in recent months have expressed doubts about the curriculum.
There is no national assessment to compare the District's Common Core standards to those of other states, but the National Assessment of Educational Progress report card provides a general view of where the District's fourth- and eighth-grade students compare to comparable cities.
Information provided by the Council of the Great City Schools showed that from 2007 to 2011, the District saw a 9 percent and 7 percent increase in math proficiency for its fourth- and eighth-graders, respectively. Baltimore saw a 4 percent rise in its fourth-grade math scores, and a 3 percent bump for its eighth-grade math scores. Boston reported a 6 percent increase at the fourth-grade level for its math tests and a 7 percent increase for eighth-graders.
The District test results also showed between 4 percent and 5 percent improvements in math scores for economically disadvantaged groups, English language learners and special-education students. Reading proficiency for those same groups improved roughly 3 percent to 5 percent.
"There is no way to deny that the announcement today is indeed very good news," said Michael Casserly, executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. "Their gains are substantial and sharp in both reading and mathematics. The work that they have done to improve reading and literacy is clearly paying off. I think that's the bottom line: Results like this do not happen by accident."
The overall goal of the District is to have 75 percent proficiency in reading and math, and 5 percent overall growth each year.
"Education really is an endurance sport," said Maria Ferguson, executive director of the Center for Education Policy. "Most people have an unrealistic timeline of how education happens."
This year's testing window was April 22 to May 3, and school officials said that of the 80,231 students enrolled in the District's public and charter schools, 32,838 students — or 41 percent — took the test. Of those students, about 20,000 of them are in traditional public schools.
Students from third grade to 10th grade were tested, and results showed that every grade improved its math and reading scores from last year, except for seventh-grade math scores, which dropped by less than half of 1 percent.
"We still have a long way to go, but I'm excited about what's ahead," D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said.
Tuesday's announcement was optimistic, a far cry from the past two years, which were marred by a cheating scandal.
A USA Today report found that several teachers helped students choose the right answers or flouted security protocols in April 2011. The inspector general's office ruled that the issue was not widespread, but at least one teacher was fired and the District was strongly encouraged to adopt new standards of security for test booklets and testing areas.
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