Monday, August 29, 2005

Recently, D.C. Public Schools released results detailing student achievement on the Stanford-9 testing. The results were somewhat mixed.

While the performance of elementary students in reading and math improved modestly, the performance ofsecondarystudents dipped slightly. With “adequate yearly progress” expectations ratcheting up significantly in 2006 (in the District’s case, the targets — required under No Child Left Behind — increase in two-year increments), SuperintendentClifford Janey and his team have a lot of ground to cover in the coming academic year.

I think the District — and Mr. Janey’s team — are up to the challenge. Why? Because an unprecedented alignment is occurring within the District’s education system that allows standards-based reforms to begin making a real impact on our children’s academic achievement.

The organization I head has worked with DCPS for the past 18 months in two capacities. We run a program called Parent Power Works that is designed to increase parents’ involvement in their child’s education. Since last fall, we have been working with the District to adopt new, more rigorous, academic standards based on those used so successfully in Massachusetts.

In January 2004, the Council of Great City Schools issued a report that called the DCPS instructional program incoherent and lacking in accountability, producing “abysmal results.” The comprehensive, hard-hitting report described a complete lack of alignment between standards (the goals we have for what students should know and be able to demonstrate at each grade level), the curriculum (what they are taught in the classroom), and assessment (how they are measured).

Mr. Janey has embraced many of the report’s excellent recommendations and brings great energy to standards-based reform in the District. As a result, a District-wide alignment of these key components of reform is emerging:

• Standards: The D.C. Board of Education has recently adopted academic standards in Reading/Language Arts and Mathematics that are being hailed by educators who have reviewed them. Sandra Stotsky, a scholar who is one of the nation’s leading experts on Reading/Language Arts and the primary reviewer of standards on behalf of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, said the standards “are among the best written ones I have ever reviewed.” Science and social studies standards are being developed now and will be provided to the school board for approval before the year is out.

• Parental involvement: Grade-specific parent guides to the reading and mathematics standards have been produced and will be made available to all parents — in six different languages — when school starts in the fall. A significant parental engagement effort is being launched to introduce parents to the standards and to help them understand how they can use standards to become more meaningfully involved in their child’s education.

• Professional development: A number of teachers, academic coaches, principals and others have received professional development over the summer. During the school year much more will be provided to help them get to know the standards, teach them and, yes, assess progress toward achieving them. This is a system-wide effort; all teachers at all schools are receiving the same instruction and materials.

According to the American Educational Research Association, “Research shows that professional development leads to better instruction and improved student learning when it connects to the curriculum materials that teachers use, the district and state academic standards that guide their work, and the assessment and accountability measures that evaluate their success.” This is precisely the course of action DCPS has taken.

• Curriculum: Curriculum guides have been developed that will provide teachers with examples of how the standards might be demonstrated in the classroom,identifying where in the textbooks specific standards are addressed and showcasing sample assessment items.

Great standards — with which our organization has a depth of experience — are only part of the equation. A curriculum that teaches those standards, tests that measure progress in mastering those standards and teachers committed to ongoing professional development are the pillars of real school reform. The pieces of the puzzle are coming together. There is good reason to believe DCPS’ brightest days lie ahead.

Barbara Davidson is president of StandardsWork Inc. and project director of Parent Power Works.

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