Increased scores in math in DCPS on NAEP

A recent report from NAEP shows that the scores of DCPS students in math are no longer at the bottom for all states and urban school districts. At the 4th grade, in math,  our kids are now significantly ahead of Cleveland, and essentially tied with Chicago and Los Angeles. This doesn’t terribly surprise me. After all, the problems that I see in inner-city Washington (my home town) are not that different from what I see in other big American cities that I have visited. And they are not going to be fixed by wholesale firing of veteran teachers.

Here is a table that I made from the graphs in the report. The yellow line is scores for the last 6 years in the entire nation in 4th grade math; the salmon-colored line is for all big cities; and the green line is for us here in DC – just regular DCPS students, not charter schools. (Although, if you look deeper, there is virtually no difference between the scores for the charter schools and the regular public schools. Even the NAEP admits that scores that are only 1 or 2 points apart are not “significantly different”.)

As usual, the press, especially the Washington Post, are eager to give all of the credit to Chancellor Rhee. That is a joke. As you can see in the following graph, which I made from publicly available data on national and DC averages, the trend in DC 4th grade math NAEP scores has been upward for quite some time – since the mid-1990’s, when Michelle Rhee was still trying to get her own act together teaching in Baltimore in a for-profit school that failed.

Note that this is from the publicly available data, so I am unable to separate out the charter schools. And note also how high the scores are for white DC fourth graders. In fact, theirs are the highest for any such subgroup in the entire nation. Looking even closer, we see that Rhee can take credit (if she wants) for the fact that 4th-grade White DCPS students gained twice as much under her watch as 4th-grade Black students!

On the other hand, nobody really knows what these numbers really mean. Do they mean that our students are doing better than 17 years ago? I don’t know. However, in my own experience over 30 years of teaching, incoming 7th graders seem to know a heck of a lot more math now than they did in 1978, which was back in the days of “Back to Basics”.

The entire NAEP is so long that no single student could ever possibly take the whole thing; instead, the students who do take it only take about a morning’s worth of it. By no means do all 4th and 8th graders take the NAEP, either. There is some formula for deciding which classrooms in which schools will be asked to take either part of the English NAEP or part of the Math NAEP. Many teachers of math and English may go their entire career without ever administering it to their own classes, especially if the teach neither 4th or 8th grade.

The latest report from NAEP concerning cities is at

I will have some more comments on this later.

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Are the NAEP scores for DC reflective of only DCPS students or DCPS plus charter school students?


  2. […] check out former DCPS teacher Guy Brandenburg's look at the NAEP scores: 'As usual, the press, especially the Washington Post, are eager to give all of the credit to […]


  3. The data on DC charter schools is publicly available. You can pull it out of the NAEP tool by looking at DC as a state (and choosing Charter under school factors). It was not available until the TUDA release because they didn’t want to release the results on DCPS until they did the TUDA release.


  4. […] well researched and truly data-driven contents of this website.  You can’t take credit for the rising NAEP scores.  You don’t mention that the achievement gap you think is so important has actually widened on […]


  5. Mr. Brandenburg,

    Let me add that I’ve calculated changes in NAEP standard scores for pre-Rhee and post-Rhee years. Here’s a letter the Post would not, of course, run –

    To the editor:
    Your Oct. 2 editorial (“Is there racism in Washington’s school reform?”) uses misleading statistics to claim that Michelle Rhee has dramatically raised student achievement. The rate of improvement in National Assessment of Educational Progress scores, in both math and reading, has remained steady for a decade.

    Pre-Rhee, combined 4th and 8th grade math scores rose from 427 in 2000 to 462 in 2007-about 1.2 percent per year-and post-Rhee, to 473 between 2007 and 2009-also 1.2 percent per year. Combined 4th and 8th grade reading scores rose at an annual rate of 0.62 percent between 1998 and 2007 (reading wasn’t tested in 2000), and 0.68 percent between 2007 and 2009.

    The eye-popping rates of increase cited are calculated using a single arbitrary point along a continuum: the dividing line between “proficient” and “not proficient.” A single point can make all the difference-100 may be “proficient” and 99 “not proficient.” But it’s still just one point, which is not statistically significant.

    Michelle Rhee’s counterpart in New York City, Joel Klein, also claimed unprecedented progress in closing achievement gaps. His gains evaporated when it was revealed they, too, were artifacts of statistical sleight of hand.
    Lanning E. Moldauer, Ph.D.

    5619 33rd Street, NW
    Washington, DC 20015



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