NEAP Survey Shows Strong Gains For DC Students

Ashley Bateman Adjunct Scholar, Lexington Institute

At a glance, yesterday’s release of the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress yields unremarkable data, but locally, students in DC public and public charter schools posted powerful improvements.

The nation’s students, overall, have achieved insignificant gains since 2013. In fact, most states’ scores remained stagnant or decreased in mathematics and reading across the two grades measured nationwide. Low-income students and minorities had no significant gains from the previous assessment in 2013; no population-based gaps appear to be closing.

A breakout of NAEP since 2003, the Trial Urban District Assessment pulls scores from 21 large urban school districts, zeroing in on some of the nation’s most challenging and dynamic school systems.

TUDA reveals a gem here and there. A glimmer of positive growth worth a second glance, promising some reform efforts pay off over time.

Several urban locales, representing some of the nation’s largest school districts, are continuing on an upward trajectory, with District of Columbia schools gaining in multiple areas.

Nationally, the average eighth-grade mathematics score decreased compared to 2013, and the average score for large city eighth-graders was unchanged. But large city schools continue to make greater gains over time compared to the rest of the nation.

Several TUDA districts, to include the District of Columbia, are outpacing the nation in score gains, according to Peggy G. Carr, NCES’ acting commissioner. DC is one of three to have gains over large cities.

The gap between large city schools and the national average is slowly, but steadily decreasing, narrowing from 10 points in 2003 to 6 points in 2015 at fourth-grade level mathematics.

From 2013-2015, DC Public Schools was one of three districts that showed gains in more than one subject and grade, along with Chicago and Miami-Dade.

Fourth-grade students in DC averaged higher proficiency rates in 2015 as compared to 2013 in mathematics; reading performance also increased.

The only increases in score changes noted between 2013-2015 by race/ethnicity in fourth-grade reading were by black students in Boston and the District of Columbia.

While they still have a long way to go, schools in the nation’s capital are showing strong growth in their success serving the educational needs of a diverse and often-challenging student population.

The District is a national leader in education reform, with a robust environment for choice driving a steady upward course of improvement, bolstered by NAEP’s latest numbers and more than a decade of documentation since TUDA’s inception.

Last month, DC Public and public charter schools reported strong gains in graduation rates for the high school class of 2015.  On-time graduation rates grew from 58 to 64 percent in DCPS and from 69 to 71 percent in DC charter high schools.

Kaya Henderson, DC Public Schools chancellor, was quick to share credit for the gains with the “old fashioned hard work” of principals and educators across the district’s 111 schools.

Meanwhile, the city’s 115 public charter schools have also worked hard to constantly improve, strengthening instructional models, hiring and retaining excellent teachers, supporting teachers with data to guide decisions, policies and instructions and maximizing students’ instructional time.

While a failure to adequately address quality concerns limits the success of many of the nation’s charter authorizers, the DC Public Charter School Board relies on its nationally-recognized model for charter school accountability, the Performance Management Framework. The DC Public Charter School Board has eliminated more than 2,000 of its lowest-achieving school seats and added more than 4,000 Tier 1, or top-tier, seats in charter schools since 2011.

“Using the PMF as a guide, we have closed our lowest performing schools, encouraged high performing schools to grow, and used the data we have collected to help drive improvement at schools across the quality spectrum,” said Scott Pearson, executive director of DC Public Charter School Board.

While it takes time for the positive effects of choice to be evident in traditional school districts, when the charter sector hit a 25 percent market share, transformative efforts could suddenly be meaningfully enacted. Reforms like IMPACT (teacher evaluations with salary and job implications) and a lengthened school day in many schools were important drivers of growth.

School leaders also acknowledged the important contributions of a strong constellation of nonprofit organizations in supporting progress in local schools.  Groups including Reading Partners, the Center for Inspired Teaching, the Flamboyan Foundation and Pages and Chapters and the Open Books (family literacy workshops) curriculum have developed powerful track records working with students and families across both sectors.

“The family and community engagement piece of the district’s teacher evaluations may have played a part in increased test scores,” said Jenny Jackaway, founder of Pages and Chapters.

No matter how you measure, DC public and public charter schools are aiming high and continuing to measure up.