Here is the conventional wisdom:
Everything is getting better in the Washington, DC public school system since the City Council did away with the elected school board and instituted mayoral control over the schools. Chancellors Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson have overseen tremendous improvement ever since, because the teacher evaluation system known as IMPACT and the removal of seniority starting in school-year 2009-10 were game-changers that have ensured continual test score increases.
After looking at the record, I beg to differ.
What the record actually shows is that with all those changes, almost none of the promises Chancellor Rhee made actually came true. Plus, if you look at how the various subgroups (blacks, whites, hispanics, ELLs, SPEDs, and so on) did, you will see almost no progress since 2009.
I will show you the results, and I think you will agree that mayoral control of the schools and the current focus on tests, tests, and more tests has not even come close to accomplishing any of the promises that were made or that citizens should expect.
Let’s first look at the promises made for elementary and secondary math and reading scores on the DC-CAS, and compare those promises with the actual results. First, elementary reading:
Remember, the big changes in the operations of DC Public Schools began in the 2009-2010 school year. Before those big changes were implemented, there had been some modes and steady improvement in the elementary reading scores on the DC-CAS, which Rhee, Kamras, and Henderson promised would continue through 2013 — and that you can see as the dotted blue line in the graph shown above. In 2014, under the law known as “No Child Left Behind Act”, every single student in every single subgroup in every single public school was supposed to be proficient, which is why my dotted line suddenly veers sharply up into dreamland at 100%. So, as you can see, the actual percentage of elementary students at the ‘advanced’ or ‘proficient’ level in DCPS in 2013 is slightly BELOW what it was in 2009, the last year before IMPACT (and the year I retired).
Next, let’s look at secondary reading:
Once again, the promised goals far outstripped the actual achievements after 2009 in secondary reading, which showed several years of small declines after 2009, and a couple of years of small increases. An astute reader will notice that for 2008 and 2009, the dotted blue line (promises) is below the solid red line. That’s because when I added up the numbers of students in grades 7, 8, and 10 who were ‘proficient’ or ‘advanced’ in those years from the official spreadsheets, I got slightly different results from what Rhee & company claimed when they made the agreements with the four large foundations. I don’t quite know what causes the difference, so I’m calling their numbers for those years the “claimed” results, and my results the “actual”. Such hubris on my part, I know…
In any case, nobody could claim that there has been steady growth in secondary reading scores in DCPS since 2009, the last year before IMPACT. Recall that 2007 was the first year that DC students took a new exam called the DC-CAS, instead of the previous test called the SAT-9. In every school district that I or other researchers have examined, when a new standardized test is instituted, it is very common for students’ scores to plummet the first year. After that, teachers and students learn how to take the test and instruction changes, and scores begin to rise again. We see that pattern here for years 2007, 2008, and 2009. But after that, frankly, the scores are very close to “flat”.
Next — elementary math scores:
Once again, we do steady increases from 2007 through 2009, which I attribute to teachers learning how to teach to a new test and students figuring it out as well. After 2009, when Rhee instituted IMPACT and made all those promises to those large foundations and the public, the growth pretty much stopped, and the gap between those promises (the dotted blue line) and the actual results (the red line) got wider. In 2014, the last year we have data for, the elementary math scores actually dropped again, not by much — but this was the year that under No Child Left Behind, 100% of all students were supposed to be proficient.
Next — secondary math:
This fourth graph is almost an exact duplicate of the pattern established with the previous three graphs. Once again, there are different results in different official documents, but the gap between the promised results and the actual results is getting wider, and there has been rather little growth since 2009.
Now let’s look at the various subgroups: African-American students, Hispanics, whites, those learning English as a foreign language for the first time, those in special education, and those eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. First, math: