Academic Achievement, Graduation Rates, & Test Scores

DC City Council

Committee of the Whole & the Committee on Education

 

Academic Achievement, Graduation Rates, & Test Scores

in the District of Columbia Public and Public Charter Schools

November 22, 2019

 

Testimony of

Elizabeth A. Davis, President

Washington Teachers’ Union, AFT Local 6

 

 

The Washington Teacher’s Union represents 5,000 active and retired teachers. We are dedicated to social and educational justice for the students of the District of Columbia and to improving the quality of support, resources, compensation and working conditions for the public servants and proud teachers who educate our students. Many of our WTU members live and pay taxes in the District and have kids or family members that attend DC schools. I am a DC teacher and DC resident.

 

In spite of the dedication and best efforts of our teacher members, far too many students in the District of Columbia are stymied in reaching their full potential because of the barriers they face in our schools and in our communities. Despite the rhetoric you have undoubtedly heard over the past few weeks and months surrounding the District’s performance on the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), the release of the District’s 2019 graduation rates, and our student’s performance on PARCC, we have not made “real progress” across the District nor should we continue to embrace the “bold” reform policies that our city has embraced for over the past decade.

 

The barriers our students face are real and the resulting achievement gaps that are present in the District of Columbia are striking. It is time that we acknowledge the truth about achievement gaps and graduation rates in our city and directly confront the challenges our students face.

 

Let me be clear. We have made progress. There are great schools, and waitlists for them, for both DC Public Schools and schools in the public charter sector. For DCPS, a total of 9,437 individual students were waitlisted 26,395 times after the 2018 My School DC Lottery. In the public charter sector, there are 11,861 individual students on the My School DC lottery waitlists to attend one or more PK-12 public charter schools in SY2019-20. Many of these individual students likely appear on multiple lists, both within and across sectors.

 

Despite these waitlists, there are also 20,000 empty seats in public schools – DCPS and public charter – in the District today, with 5 new public charter schools opening next year. We do not have a “moral obligation” to open more charter schools as many nationally –backed advocates would have you believe. We do, however, have a moral obligation to ensure that each and every student in the District of Columbia has access to a high-quality education.

 

As our city opens new schools, we continue to drain the resources away from the existing schools – and the students – that need them the most. Despite an increase in the education budget for this school year, 20 DC Public Schools, including 17 schools in Wards 7 and 8, saw significant budget cuts for the current school year. It is time for a moratorium on new schools. It is time that we invest in the schools – and the students – we have today.

 

The true measure of our city is how we treat our most vulnerable; it is morally wrong to fail to invest in the students of the District of Columbia. Our current system creates “winners and losers” both for schools and for students. It is time that we move beyond a framework of public education that emphasizes “choice” and embrace one that recognizes our citizen’s right to education. It is time that we embrace a bold policy agenda that prioritizes students and ending the achievement gaps that plague our city.

 

 

 

The Achievement Gap.

The achievement gap in the District of Columbia, by virtually any measure, is immense and it is continuing to grow.

 

A few weeks ago, our city celebrated the release of the 2019 results from National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as “the nation’s report card,” with DC Public Schools Chancellor Ferebee sharing that “District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) continues to be the nation’s fastest improving urban school district based on data released today from the 2019 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA).” The TUDA measures math and reading skills in large urban districts for 4th and 8th graders by using the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The Washington Post Opinion page echoed the sentiment with a column questioning why anyone would want to roll by education “reform” given the results of the NAEP tests.

 

We should celebrate. The work of our teachers across the city has helped many, many students improve. However, the greatness of our city should be judged by how it treats its most vulnerable. On this front, we have failed.

 

Over the last 15 years of reform in DC, the achievement gap between students eligible for reduced price lunch and those who are not eligible has significantly grown. Yes, all scores are up, but the achievement gap grew an average of 18.75 scale points or approximately 105% from 2003 - 2019.

 

 

The NAEP scores mirror results on the city’s PARCC tests, the other major standardized test administered in the District, which is used for accountability in the city’s STAR accountability rating system as well as a key component of the District’s IMPACT Teacher evaluation system. The PARCC scores show steady, albeit slow, growth across most demographic groups. However, once again, we see achievement gaps growing across demographics.

 

 

 

District of Columbia PARCC Results

State ELA % 4+

 

4-year Growth

 

 

2016

2017

2018

2019

 

 

All Students

26.7%

30.5%

33.3%

37.1%

 

10.4%

 

White

74.3%

82.0%

82.1%

85.0%

 

10.7%

 

Black

19.3%

22.0%

24.7%

27.8%

 

8.5%

 

Hispanic

24.7%

28.9%

32.0%

37.3%

 

12.6%

 

Asian

55.7%

66.2%

71.6%

74.0%

 

18.3%

 

At-Risk

13.2%

15.8%

18.4%

21.1%

 

7.9%

 

English Learners

13.8%

1.5%

18.8%

19.7%

 

5.9%

 

Students with Disabilities

5.4%

4.8%

5.7%

7.9%

 

2.5%

 

             

 

PARCC Scores

State Math % 4+

 

4-year Growth

 

 

 

2016

2017

2018

2019

 

 

All Students

24.8%

26.9%

29.4%

30.5%

 

5.7%

 

White

71.0%

75.5%

78.8%

78.8%

 

7.8%

 

Black

17.4%

18.6%

20.7%

21.1%

 

3.7%

 

Hispanic

22.0%

28.2%

28.2%

30.5%

 

8.5%

 

Asian

59.7%

64.5%

69.8%

69.4%

 

9.7%

 

At-Risk

12.9%

14.2%

15.7%

16.3%

 

3.4%

 

English Learners

18.5%

21.2%

20.9%

22.7%

 

4.2%

 

Students with Disabilities

6.4%

5.3%

6.4%

7.2%

 

0.8%

 

             

 

 

Source: https://osse.dc.gov/parcc

 

       
                       

 

These numbers are hard to digest, but they are the facts. Until our city acknowledges their truth, we cannot hope to combat them.

 

 

The Graduation Gap.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) released graduation data on November 8th for the Class of 2019. Overall, OSSE reported — accounting for both sectors — that 3,359 students gradated in the Class of 2019, a graduation rate of 68.2 percent, essentially unchanged from 2018. We should be proud of the graduates who have met our city’s stringent and high expectations. However, once again, we need to look past the headlines and look more closely at the data. What is both publicly available and what is missing help to tell a different story.

 

 

# of Grads

Class of 2019

2019 Adj’d Cohort Grad Rate

State

3,359

68.2%

   DCPS

2,170

65.1%

   PCS

1,189

76.4%

 

Student mobility, combined with the use of the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) plays a significant, but overlooked, role in how our city calculates graduation rates. These two factors conspire to paint a dramatically altered reality for many of our Local Education Agencies (LEAs) as well as individual schools. LEAs and individual schools use this distorted reality to gain points via the city’s STAR Rating system as well as the Public Charter School Board’s Performance Management Framework (PMF).

 

First, before discussing how these factors help to distort reality, we need to acknowledge that student mobility has consequences for students, schools, neighborhoods, and public policy. In a July 2015 report, OSSE noted “Changing schools in the middle of an academic year can be disruptive to the students moving, to the schools they are leaving, and to the schools in which they are enrolling. High student mobility is also associated with higher levels of dropping out and while parents may transfer their children’s schools in search of a higher quality education, research suggests that school changes in low-income neighborhoods do not lead children to attend higher ranked schools and, in fact, actually result in children attending schools with lower performance levels.”[1] The WTU believes that students and their families should have a choice in their education. However, we also need to better understand the impacts of those choices and how the mobility of students impacts how our city reports graduation rates for individual LEAs and schools as well as how it impacts individual student achievement.

 

The Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR) was first collected in 2010-11 as a result of federal requirements to have uniform reporting requirements across states. While an improvement over prior reporting, especially when comparing states, it fails to capture many details that impact LEAs and schools in the District.

 

To calculate the ACGR, states identify the “cohort” of first-time 9th graders in a particular school year, and adjust this number by adding any students who transfer into the cohort after 9th grade and subtracting any students who transfer out. The ACGR is the percentage of the students in this cohort who graduate within four years. For many Local Education Agencies (LEAs) and schools in the District this paints a distorted view of their individual graduation rates.

 

Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate vs

   % of 9th Grade Student who Graduate

 Sector / School

2019 ACGR

Grads % of 9th grade

State

68.2%

56.0%

   DCPS

65.1%

55.7%

   PCS

76.4%

56.6%

 

Data per Mary Levy

See Appendix 1 for complete details.

 

 

I do want to acknowledge that the data currently available from OSSE on this topic has two major flaws. First, with publicly available data, we don’t have a clear idea of the number of first time 9th grader students in the District. For the Class of 2019, in the fall of 2014, there were 5,785 students enrolled in 9th grade across the District. We do not know how many of these students were first time 9th graders. However, we do know that our city’s Freshmen classes are swollen with students who have failed courses and have yet to be classified as 10th graders. Often these students will make up the credits and be reclassified later back into their original class. Other students will take a 5th year to graduate. Unfortunately, our city’s current data collection/reporting doesn’t currently tell us how many students enrolled in 9th grade are first time 9th graders and a part of the adjusted cohort.

 

Second, we also, don’t have complete information about the true impact of student mobility. Publicly available data shows a significant enrollment decline – across sectors and across individual schools – between 9th and 10th grades. However, we don’t have a clear understanding of whether those students drop-out, enroll in a private school or out-of-state, or transfer within DC schools. We also lack data on the reasons for student transfers and data around their academic achievement prior to transferring.

 

Enrollment Data by Grade for the Class of 2019

Class of 2019

Grade 9 Enroll Fall 15

Grade 10 Enroll Fall 16

Grade 12 Enroll Fall 18

4 Yr Adj'd Cohort

State

5,785

4,012

3,500

4,926

   DCPS

3,767

2,558

2,200

3,334

   PCS

2,018

1,454

1,300

1,554

 

Data per Mary Levy

See Appendix 1 for complete details.

 

 

What the publicly available data does tell us is that many LEAs and individual schools – including some credited with high graduation rates – graduate far fewer students than they enroll as 9th graders. And, again, students that transfer count towards the graduation rates at their receiving school, rather than the school they began at because of our city’s use of the Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate (ACGR). The effect of student mobility is a distorted view of the actual graduation rates for individual LEAs and schools.

 

 

 

 

 

Solution – Acknowledge Gaps & Invest.

No child’s education should depend upon a student’s zip code or their success in a lottery. It is also time that we are honest with ourselves and acknowledge the stark achievement gaps – whether measured by NAEP, PARCC or graduation rates – that plague our city.

 

It is also time that we acknowledge other truths in our educational system. We spend more money on instruction for some students west of Rock Creek Park than we do on some students east of the Anacostia River despite the dramatic difference in their means. We have failed to properly spend and account for At-Risk funds, designed to invest in students and schools in our most needy community. Our schools are remarkable segregated, both racially and economically.

 

The solution and the path forward require new thinking and bold initiatives. We cannot continue to rely upon the failed “reforms” of the past decade. Opening new schools to create more “choice” for families drains resources from existing schools damaging those communities and the students within them. Nor should we have confidence that all new schools our city opens will automatically be “high-quality.” The PCSB has closed 35 schools in the last 7 years & several other schools have been "taken over" by new management. A school closure should not be seen as a sign of accountability but rather as a sign that we failed those students who attended those schools. Again, it is time for a comprehensive vision for education across our city and a moratorium on the opening of new schools. It is time we embrace our city’s moral obligation to provide a high-quality education to every child and develop a comprehensive strategy to achieve that goal.

 

The first steps involve a renewed investment in our students and the development of a comprehensive vision for our school systems that prioritizes inclusivity, diversity, and investment. As we enter the FY2021 budget process, we call on the Mayor and Council to fully Fund DC Schools. Despite an increase in city’s education budget for FY2020, 20 public schools, including 17 schools in Wards 7 and 8, saw significant budget cuts for the current school year. Overall funding for DCPS did not keep up with rising costs, leading to staff and supply cuts in many schools. We specifically call for the city to:

  1. Meet 2013 Adequacy Levels. In 2013, the District Government commissioned an Adequacy Study calling for per pupil expenditures of $11,628. We need to reach, if not exceed, this amount in the FY2021 budget and for the first time fully funding our schools. The proposed FY 2020 budget increased the UPSFF base by 2.2 percent, from $10,658 to $10,891 per-student.
  2. Ensure At-Risk Dollars supplement rather than supplant required spending. Achievement gaps across nearly all subgroups measured by NAEP have not changed or have grown since 2002/2003. The NAEP scores mirror results on the city’s PARCC tests. The PARCC scores show steady, albeit slow, growth across most demographic groups. However, once again, we see achievement gaps growing. Research is clear that increased spending can, when combined with other reforms, help close achievement gaps, but in DC the funds have not reached the students who are in greatest need.
  3. Increased supplemental funding for students with Learning Differences. The District of Columbia continues to fail DC students with special needs. The US Department of Education labeled DC as “needs” assistance” in implementing federal requirements of Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA). Additional funding will allow DC Public Schools to reduce special education class sizes and increase the planning time allowed for Special Education Teachers.

 

We also recognize that student achievement is dramatically impacted by conditions outside of a school building. If we care about children, we need to improve all the conditions that affect them. We urge the City to invest in affordable housing and rent control. To invest in health care and fully fund emergency medical services at United Medical Center. And, to make school lunches free for all students. We also call on the city to invest substantially in Trauma Informed Practices & Screening. When trauma goes unchecked and is sustained, it can disrupt a child's brain development, interfering with functions children depend on in school such as memory recall, focus and impulse control. In a trauma-informed school, the adults in the school community are prepared to recognize and respond to those who have been impacted by traumatic stress. To ensure adequate staffing to help students combat trauma, we need more information on the experiences of our students and propose that the city screen every student for trauma and uses the findings to ensure adequate staffing.

 

The WTU also strongly believes that we need One Set of Rules for All Schools. Regardless of where a student attends school, she is entitled to the same rights as a student, including transparency and adherence to all local laws.

 

In the coming weeks, we look forward to sharing more on these ideas and others. The WTU stands ready to collaborate with all stakeholders in order to ensure our city’s teachers and education workforce are protected and that all students have access to great educational opportunities. The WTU would be happy to answer any questions that you have.

 

 

[1] https://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/15%2007%2022_Mid-Year_Student_Movement_Final_toPost.pdf


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