- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 26, 2012

D.C. school officials on Thursday praised overall gains in 2012 test scores as another baby step toward the ambitious, long-term goals for school reform — although less than half of the city’s students were proficient in math and reading.

Overall results from the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System show that public school students improved their proficiency in reading, math and science by 1.1 percent. Taken from a six-year perspective, the scores indicate an overall growth of 13.9 percent since 2007.

D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said long-term gains are “the real story” of reform efforts that began under her polarizing predecessor, Michelle Rhee, and continue under her tenure.

D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray viewed the standardized testing improvements as a sign the city is on the right track, although it has a long way to go toward an eventual goal of 75 percent proficiency in reading and math, and 5 percent overall growth each year.

“We all recognize there is much more to do,” State Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley said. “We are trending in the right direction.”

Mr. Gray culled together a who’s who of school officials on stage at Neval Thomas Elementary School in Ward 7 to announce the scores. A packed gymnasium of educators and residents brought a buoyant mood while officials couched the unveiling as a “joyous occasion” and a “good day for DCPS.”

More than 32,000 third through eighth graders and 10th graders took the high-profile test in late April. More than 60 percent of them were enrolled in traditional public schools.

“What happens in DCPS really, really matters in terms of state accountability,” Ms. Mahaley said.

Mr. Gray singled out high test scores by third and fourth graders as evidence his focus on early childhood education is paying dividends. He pointed to the establishment of universal pre-kindergarten programs in 2007, when he was council chairman, as the starting point for a positive trend he expects to continue.

Officials broke down the 2012 data along two main tracks — D.C. Public Schools and public charter schools. The traditional public schools showed greater growth in their overall scores — from 43.1 percent to 44.7 percent — while charter students enjoyed a slight uptick from 51.7 percent to 52.2 percent.

DCPS showed its most dramatic gains in science, with 38.9 percent proficiency marking a 5.3 percent improvement from 2011.

“Anything over 5 or 6 [percent] is really significant,” Ms. Mahaley said.

Charter schools saw a 0.9 percent decrease, from 45.1 percent to 44.2 percent, in their science scores.

DCPS students improved in reading from 43 percent in 2011 to 43.5 percent in 2012, although down from 44.9 percent in 2009. In math, the same students improved 43.2 percent in 2010 to 46 percent 2011.

Comparing 2011 to 2012, charter school students improved in math from 53.6 percent proficiency to 55 percent; yet dropped in reading proficiency from 49.7 percent to 49.4 percent despite long-term gains of about 7 percent since 2007.

The city is forging onward even as the D.C. Office of the Inspector General, assisted by the U.S. Department of Education, investigates a high number of wrong-to-right erasures on the annual tests from 2008 to 2010. The allegations of possible cheating were brought to light by a USA Today report in March 2011 and highlighted gains, particularly at Noyes Education Campus in Northeast, during Ms. Rhee’s tenure.

• Tom Howell Jr. can be reached at thowell@washingtontimes.com.

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