- The Washington Times - Monday, July 8, 2002

Preliminary test data show that D.C. teachers appear to be teaching and students appear to be learning. The data, which compare last school year's SAT 9 scores to this year's, show that better than 50 percent of schools improved math and reading skills and that nearly one in four made gains greater than 5 percent on the SAT 9, the standardized test that D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) has been using since the mid-1990s. Two schools located east of the Anacostia River (Moten Elementary and Kramer Middle School), where most of the city's economically depressed neighborhoods are situated and where social ills are most pronounced, made better than 20 percent gains in reading. That is good news.
The bad news is that the District's high-school students still aren't making the grade. Estimated graduation rates for ninth-grade students who should finish in four years are alarmingas low as 50 percent. Average SAT scores are only 822, compared with a national average of 1020. Social promotions are problems as well. For example, Spingarn High in Northeast has reportedly allowed 43 seniors to graduate after re-adjusting their grades to include extra-credit assignments and other "last-minute" shuffles, including retesting.
Meanwhile, Wilson High School, which is near American University in Northwest, is under investigation for grade inflation and well it should be. Several Wilson teachers have complained about grades being inflated for students. One longtime Wilson teacher has said the school maintains "multiple, often contradictory, files in the electronic database and hard-copy transcripts with whiteouts and typeovers," and he has described student records as "somewhat disorganized." The criticisms are certainly serious, since Wilson is one of the city's premier high schools. Spingarn and Wilson probably would have closed years ago if it weren't for the fact that both have special programs: Spingarn offers alternative and dropout-prevention programs; Wilson offers Advanced Placement courses.
To his credit, Superintendent Paul Vance has implemented two new policies designed to help students. One targets high schools, and the other tracks test scores of all students from year to year. He also is developing curricula for all grade levels and trying to refocus everyone's attention on what's truly important what is and is not happening inside the classroom. Nonetheless, Mr. Vance is right to be "cautiously optimistic" about the rise in standardized test scores, stating: "We still have a long way to go."
School Board President Peggy Cooper Cafritz made similar remarks. However, in her monthly commentary, Mrs. Cafritz complained that "none of the wonderful news of our achievements our student test scores in particular has made it to the front page [of] our daily newspapers." She's right, but only to a point.
While scores of schools and thousands of students deserve accolades after showing significant improvements, DCPS still, as Mrs. Cafritz and Mr. Vance said, has "a long way to go." After all, the longer children stay in DCPS, the worst their academic standing. So, it is no mere coincidence and certainly a pregnant idea that Mr. Vance is targeting high schools as part of his turnaround plan.


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