Poverty vs Proficiency In DC Public and Charter Schools

You’ve all heard the slogan:

“A child’s course in life should be determined not by the zip code she’s born in.” Source

Reformers like Bush2, Barack Obama, Michelle Rhee, Joel Klein, Arne Duncan, Adrian Fenty, Bill Gates, the Bradleys and the Waltons, all said they were going to bust the educational effects of poverty in DC and other places around the country. Their chosen methods were gutting the teachers’ unions, establishing lots of charter schools, firing or forcing into retirement thousands of teachers, establishing a revolving door of inexperienced teachers who almost all crash and burn out after a few years, and transforming schooling into all testing and test prep, all the time, especially on-line, so as to collect lots of data.

Have they been successful at solving the zip-code-and-destiny problem?

If we look at the only publicly-available data that we have for Washington, DC, namely PARCC scores and percentages of students who are designated as ‘At Risk’, the answer is:


Look at these two graphs, which I’ve prepared by matching the percentages of students scoring ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ in Washington, DC, at every single DC public school and charter school, versus OSSE’s official list of the percentages and numbers of students officially designated as being ‘At Risk’.

Unfortunately, the correlation is extremely strong, and negative. In other words, the fewer the kids who are officially ‘At Risk’ at any given school, the higher the percentage of kids scoring ‘Proficient’ or ‘Advanced’ on the PARCC – the Big Standardized test given in April of 2017. And obversely the greater the percentage of students at risk at any school, the lower the percentage of students ‘passing’ the PARCC.

The effect is particularly strong in the English and Reading part of the test.

(Note: I didn’t make up the ‘At Risk’ category. It’s relatively new, but combines statistics regarding homelessness, receiving food, living in poverty, divorces, family members being incarcerated, and so on.)

Here is the graph I made for the English Language Arts test. That R-squared correlation, 0.7016, is one of the strongest correlations you will find anywhere in the social sciences.

2017 ELA Parcc, proficient vs at risk, public and charter

Now here is the graph for the Math section of the PARCC:

2017 math PARCC proficiency vs at risk, public and charter

This is certainly not an indication that education ‘reform’ in DC has been a success. After more than a decade.

Next time I’ll break this down into charters and public schools. I think you will find that many of the charter schools have populations near the middle of these charts, while the regular DC public schools have populations near the extremes.

Many thanks to Ruth Wattenberg, Mary Levy and Matthew Frumin for showing me where these data files were kept – here and here. Any errors are my own.




Different DC middle schools gave their students totally different PARCC math tests

Digest that: some DC middle schools gave a general math PARCC test to their students. Others administered an Algebra 1 PARCC test. Others gave a PARCC geometry test.

And not even Superintendent Hanseul Kang seems to know which schools administered what test.

This all comes from Valerie Jablow’s blog.

But all schools will be held ‘accountable’ to the same standard.



Revised HS PARCC ‘pass’ rates in English and Math in DC public and charter schools

My original graphs on the ‘pass’ rates for all DC publicly-funded high schools were incomplete, because I was using OSSE data only (Office of the State Superintendent of Education). A reader showed me where the DC charter school board (DC PCSB) posted their PARCC statistics and that gave me the pass rates for a couple of additional schools (Maya Angelou and BASIS IIRC). So here are the revised graphs which you can click on to enlarge:

2015 Math PARCC 'pass' rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 Math PARCC ‘pass’ rates, both public and charter schools in DC

2015 'pass' rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

2015 ‘pass’ rates, public and charter high school math, PARCC, DC, 2015

Note how many fewer students passed the PARCC math test than the reading test in DC. I haven’t yet seen any of the actual questions on either of the tests. But if these were tests that I had written and was using as a teacher with my students, I would likely conclude that the one with the much-lower scores was simply a much harder test, and I would probably do one of the following:

(A) “scale” the scores so that more students would pass, or else

(B) throw out the test results and try teaching with a different approach altogether, or else

(C) throw out the test and make one that at least a majority of students could pass if they’ve been paying attention.

{At my last school, if f I failed 80 to 90% of my students, I would have gotten an unsatisfactory evaluation and probably have gotten fired.}

Of course, this being the era when multi-billionaires who hate the very idea of public schools are in charge of said public schools, neither A, B or C will happen. In fact, my understanding is that the ‘cut’ scores for each of the categories of grades (meets expectations and so on) were set AFTER the students took the test, not in advance. So it was very much a politico-social decision that the vast majority of students were SUPPOSED to fail the math test.

Let me note strongly that by far the most effective way to have really good test scores for your school is to let in ONLY students who already get strong test scores. That’s how Phillips Exeter or Andover Academies or Riverdale or Sidwell Friends or or the Chicago Lab or Lakeside private schools do it, and that’s how Banneker, School Without Walls, Washington Latin, and BASIS do it. (Partial disclosure: I and some of my immediate family either went to, or worked at, some of those schools.) Teachers who are successful at those elite schools have a MUCH easier time teaching those students than do those who try to teach at school with large numbers of at-risk students, like Washington Metropolitan, Ballou, Cardozo, Maya Angelou, or Options public or charter schools. Idealistic teachers from elite schools who do transfer to tough inner-city public schools generally crash and burn, and I would predict that one of the easiest ways to lose your teaching job these days is to volunteer to teach at any one of the five latter schools.

How the various DC publicly-funded high schools (charter and regular public) did on the PARCC in reading/ELA and Geometry

I present a couple of graphs so that interested DC locals can see how the students at the various public and charter schools did on the PARCC test this past spring in reading/ELA and in Geometry.

Not all schools are listed, because quite a few did not have enough students taking the test. At least 25 student were needed for their scores to be reported. If the school does not have a bar next to the name, that means that nobody at that school got a 4 or a 5. As usual, you can click on the graph to make it larger. I color-coded the bars: blue for regular DCPS and orangey-yellow for the charter schools.

ELA pass rates - all DC public and charter schools

Geometry Pass rates - all DC public and charter high schools

For the sake of completeness, the following schools did not have at least 25 students taking the ELA test, so no score was reported:

  • Ballou STAY
  • Basis DC PCS
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Luke Moore Alternative HS
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • SEED PCS of Washington DC
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

And the following schools had less than 25 students taking the math test, so no score was reported for the school:

  • Ballou STAY
  • Cesar Chavez PCS for Public Policy-Chavez Prep
  • Incarcerated Youth Program, Correctional Detention Facility
  • Maya Angelou Academy at New Beginnings (formerly Oak Hill)
  • Options PCS*
  • Roosevelt STAY at MacFarland
  • Washington Metropolitan HS

Surprising Comparison of Charter and Regular Public School ‘Pass’ Rates on the HS PARCC

I was actually rather surprised to see that significantly larger percentages of regular DC public school students ‘passed’ the PARCC in both math and in reading than did DC charter school students.

If you don’t believe me, look for yourself at the OSSE press release.

What it says is that in the DC charter schools, 23% of the students ‘passed’ (got a 4 or a 5) on the English portion, whereas in the regular DC public schools, 27% ‘passed’.

And in math, they claim that only 7% of the charter school students ‘passed’, but 12% of the regular DC public school students passed.

Are you surprised, too?

What’s Wrong With the US Testing Regime?

The easiest explanation is to spell “PARCC” backwards. But Diane Ravitch has an excellent guest post that I strongly recommend on the topic, by Bob Shepherd. Here are a few quotes, explaining just one aspect of what’s wrong with the brand-new tests being imposed on US schoolchildren today:

“The test formats are inappropriate.

 ” First, the tests consist largely of objective-format items (multiple-choice and EBSR). These item types are most appropriate for testing very low-level skills (e.g., recall of factual detail). However, on these tests, such item formats are pressed into a kind of service for which they are, generally, not appropriate. They are used to test “higher-order thinking.” The test questions therefore tend to be tricky and convoluted. The test makers, these days, all insist on answer choices all being plausible. Well, what does plausible mean? Well, at a minimum, plausible means “reasonable.” So, the questions are supposed to deal with higher-order thinking, and the wrong answers are all supposed to be plausible, so the test questions end up being extraordinarily complex and confusing and tricky, all because the “experts” who designed these tests didn’t understand the most basic stuff about creating assessments–that objective question formats are generally not great for testing higher-order thinking, for example.

“For many of the sample released questions, there is, arguably, no answer among the answer choices that is correct or [else there is] more than one answer that is correct, or [else] the question simply is not, arguably, actually answerable as written.

 “Second, at the early grades, the tests end up being as much a test of keyboarding skills as of attainment in ELA. The online testing format is entirely inappropriate for most third graders.

Correct Answers to High School Common Core Questions?

After wading through various hardware, software and connection problems on my iPhone, laptop and desktop, I have attempted some of the released model sample high school Common Core English and math questions.

I am profoundly underwhelmed by the questions and by the supposed genius of David Coleman — their mastermind and Rhodes scholar, who however has never taught any classes ever in any K-12 level.

You can look at them for yourself here.

The English section compares two poems about Daedalus and Icarus (the waxy feathers flight melt-in-sun myth). One poem was originally by Ovid, a Roman poet, but we are reading it in one particular translation into English. The other one is by a modern author.

I actually read quite a bit of Ovid’s Metamorphoses in Latin about 50 years ago while a student in a DC public school and two high schools elsewhere. (This except was taken from that enormous work which goes on and on.) I don’t have any of Ovid memorized*, but while taking the ‘test’ I kept thinking more and more that a halfway decent argument could be made for every single one of the proposed answer choices, but even more than on other IQ- type tests, I was being asked to guess what David Coleman or one of his acolytes would think was the correct answer.

(As an example: with a little effort I could write a well- defined polynomial function such that the number that comes after 0, 2, 4, 6, is not 8 but -22.31415777 instead. I remember well a student telling me the next number in that sequence should be 0, since she guessed that the pattern just repeats. Frankly, she was at least as right as me!)

Knowing that the stories of Icarus, Perseus, Minos, the Minotaur, and Daedalus were made up and embellished by various Greek and Roman authors from a basis of ??possibly some distorted historical facts or else pure patriotic propaganda or ??? And knowing how pompous and full of c#%p I thought most Roman poets were, I gradually came to the conclusion that the best answer to just about all of those questions was one of these (take your pick):

1. Who cares?
2. None of the above.

3. I don’t feel like playing your little obscure mind game.

4. I reject your rule that in today’s society with ubiquitous electronic devices that are often (but not always) able to connect students to world-wide, instantaneous sources of information, students would be prohibited from doing so and would be obliged to parse two long, stupid and very ambiguous and pretentious pieces of literature, and guess what DAVID COLEMAN was thinking.

Did I mention that I’m not very impressed with either poet’s work?

When I got to the math section, I began to throw up my hands again. I mean, who in their right mind wants to solve math problems by writing on a keyboard the way they want you to?

It takes much more time and is much more technically difficult to solve problems on a keyboard than it is with a blank piece of paper and a pen or pencil. (Graph paper would be nice but not required.) for example- just try writing a proportion and factoring equations and drawing and labeling a diagram via Mouse & keyboard? It’s nuts!

It’s fairly simple, and cheap, to give students a piece of paper and a pencil and eraser. It would take time for an experienced teacher to look at the student’s efforts, naturally, and figure out how much the child understands. But- woo-woo — that wouldn’t produce large bucks for Pearson, Apple, Microsoft and a whole bunch of corporate profiteers.

And this is how teachers are going to be judged– by “improvements” in scores on this sort of cockamamie, poorly thought out test? I think if a teacher could somehow teach well enough that 90 % or more of his or her students actively boycotted the test, he or she should be given a nice framed certificate and a pat on the back and have his or her suggestions for improvement to schooling taken seriously for a change!!



*I’d be glad to recite the first few lines of the Aeneid if you like. Poor Vergil wrote book after book of this supposed founding myth of Rome, but by the end of the work, the hero had barely even reached Italy!

Published in: on February 10, 2014 at 10:07 am  Comments (6)  
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