- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Minority students made gains overall in the District’s annual standardized test assessment, but they still lag well behind their white counterparts in preparedness for life after high school.

For all D.C. students, about 27 percent were assessed to be on track or better in English, compared to 25 percent last year, the results of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers show. In math, about 25 percent tested at or above their grade level, compared to 22 percent in 2015.

The percentage of black and Hispanic students scoring at or above their grade level rose 2.3 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively, in English and 2.2 percent and 2 percent, respectively, in math.

“The PARCC scores show us that our approach of helping great educators teach rigorous content is producing real results at many of our schools,” D.C. schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said Tuesday. “But there is no shortcut to the hard work of improving student outcomes.”

This is the second year PARCC has been administered. It replaced the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System as the city’s measure of whether students are learning at grade level.

Students are rated on five levels, with Levels 1-3 indicating students who are not meeting the expectations to varying degrees for their grade. Levels 4-5 indicate students are meeting or exceeding expectations.

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Ms. Henderson said the first two years of PARCC were intended to allow teachers and students to adjust to the new test, so no consequences were meted out for administrators whose schools performed poorly. The test focuses more on critical thinking than simply answering questions correctly, which requires a different teaching approach for the test that has taken time to adjust to.

But Ms. Henderson said the free pass will change next year, when principals and teachers will be held accountable for how their students perform on the assessment.

Despite minority students making gains in English and math, they still fall well behind their white counterparts, test scores show.

Only 19 percent of black students and 25 percent of Hispanic students scored at or above their grade level in English. That’s up several percentage points from last year but far from the 74 percent mark scored by white students.

In math, about 17 percent of black students and 22 percent of Hispanic students scored at or above their grade level, compared to 71 percent of white students.

Though white students outscored their minority counterparts overall, their scores actually dropped in English this year compared to 2015 and saw only modest gains in math. White students saw a nearly 5-point drop in English results, and their math results rose about 2.7 percentage points.

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D.C. Council member David Grosso, who heads the Education Committee, said he was happy to see the growing number of students who are performing at or above their grade level, but a lot more work is needed.

“Though there have been advancements, the results still reflect the need for continued improvements to enable every child in this city to succeed,” said Mr. Grosso, at-large independent. “Data gathered through PARCC builds from year to year so that our educators and school leaders can identify both positive and negative trends.”

D.C. State Board of Education President Jack Jacobson also applauded the gains minority students have made but said it clearly isn’t enough to level the playing field.

“While the state board is pleased to see another year of growth for District students, we recognize that the achievement gap persists for District students,” Mr. Jacobson said. “The rigorous education standards adopted by the state board are a solid foundation for our schools; we are committed to ensuring that every student has the opportunity for success.”

Board of Education Vice President Karen Williams defended teachers and students, saying they’re still adjusting to the new, more in-depth test.

“Our students and teachers are working hard every day to learn and grow. The State Board stands strongly with them,” said Ms. Williams. “It is vital that the mayor keep these results in mind as she and her DCPS Rising Leadership Committee continue the search for our next DCPS Chancellor.”

• Ryan M. McDermott can be reached at rmcdermott@washingtontimes.com.

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