- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 10, 2007

As Mayor Adrian Fenty and the D.C. Council maneuver over his legislative proposal to assume much greater control of the D.C. Public Schools (DCPS), citizens and taxpayers must understand one basic fact: Based on rankings among other large central-city public school systems throughout America, it is impossible for DCPS to get any worse.

DCPS already occupies the educational basement among comparable school systems. Relative to the achievements in reading and mathematics of students in other major American cities, D.C. students not only generally perform more poorly across the board; in nearly all cases, they do so by significantly large margins.

For several years, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has been conducting its Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). NAEP is a congressionally mandated project that educators and parents consider to be “the Nation’s Report Card” for many subjects, including reading, mathematics, science, writing and history. Since 2002, DCPS has been included in TUDA’s reading and math assessments of fourth- and eighth-grade students in about a dozen large urban school districts. In the 2005 TUDA project, 11 districts participated (Atlanta, Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Chicago, Cleveland, Houston, Los Angeles, New York City, San Diego and the District of Columbia).

NAEP provides an average numerical score and ranks student performance over four levels: below basic, basic, proficient and advanced. The basic level “denotes partial mastery of the knowledge and skills that are fundamental for proficient work at a given grade.” Students who reach the proficient level “have demonstrated competency over challenging subject matter.” The advanced level “signifies superior performance.” Herewith are DCPS’ deplorable results.

In Grade 4 reading, DCPS ranked last. Its average score was 191, compared to a large central city (LCC) average of 206. Sixty-seven percent of DC fourth-graders read at the below-basic level. The LCC below-basic average was 51 percent; and the national below-basic average was 38 percent. Only 22 percent of DC fourth-graders were ranked in the basic level and 9 percent achieved proficient status, compared to LCC averages of 29 percent and 15 percent, respectively. Seventy-one percent of black fourth-graders in DCPS fell below basic, compared to 69 percent of Chicago’s black fourth-graders and 51 percent of New York’s.

In Grade 8 reading, DCPS again came in last. On the below-basic, basic, proficient and advanced continuum, DCPS eighth-graders were ranked 55, 33, 11, 1 compared to an LCC average ranking of 40, 40, 18, 2. While 58 percent of D.C. black eighth-graders were below basic and 42 percent were at or above basic, in both Chicago and New York the distribution was essentially 50/50.

Among male DCPS students, 72 percent (Grade 4) and 64 percent (Grade 8) read below the basic level compared to LCC below-basic male averages of 55 percent (Grade 4) and 46 percent (Grade 8).

Between 2002 and 2005, the percentage of DCPS fourth-graders reading at or above the basic level increased from 31 to 33 percent, while the percentage of DCPS eighth-graders reading at or above basic declined from 48 to 45 percent.

For black fourth-graders between 2002 and 2005, the percentage of D.C., Chicago and New York students who read below basic decreased from 72 to 71 percent (the District), 75 to 69 percent (Chicago) and 63 to 51 percent (New York).

In Grade 4 math, DCPS ranked last, averaging a score of 211 compared to a LCC average of 228. Chicago ranked second from the bottom (216). New York was fifth (231) among the 11 TUDA districts. Fully 55 percent of DCPS fourth-graders performed below basic, compared to 48 percent in Chicago, 28 percent in New York and an LCC average of 32 percent. Among black fourth-grade students, 59 percent (the District and Chicago) fell below basic, while 37 percent in New York did. Only 8 percent of DCPS fourth-graders reached proficiency in math. The LCC average was 21 percent. Proficiency rates in Chicago and New York were 12 and 23 percent, respectively.

In Grade 8 math, the District essentially tied with Los Angeles for last place. Sixty-nine percent of all DCPS eighth-grade students (and 73 percent of black eighth-graders) fell below basic. Only 5 percent of DCPS eighth-grade students achieved proficiency in math, compared to 9 percent in Chicago and 16 percent in New York. The LCC below-basic average was 47 percent, with 15 percent achieving the proficient goal. In Chicago and New York, the percentages of black eighth-graders performing math at the below-basic level were 72 and 56 percent, respectively.

Fifty-five percent (Grade 4) and 71 percent (Grade 8) of DCPS female students performed below basic in math. Among Chicago females, 50 percent (Grade 4) and 56 percent (Grade 8) performed below basic. Among New York girls, 28 percent (Grade 4) and 45 percent (Grade 8) performed below basic.

If the public school systems in Chicago and New York City represent the competing models from which D.C. reformers are likely to choose, it is clear that New York schools have outperformed Chicago schools in teaching their students to read and calculate — especially their black students, who comprise about 85 percent of DCPS.

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