DCPS students show modest gains on CAS tests

On Friday, in a room full of members of the education community, press and students of the Hospitality High School, the results of the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS) were announced. The anticipation was thick, with reporters jostling to get their questions answered. DCPS teachers will be evaluated in part based on how their students scored.

I left the briefing feeling optimistic. Superintendent Hosanna Mahaley showed graphs that made both elementary and secondary scores look like massive gains – “some even almost doubled!”- they kept saying. OSSE made sure to visually portray the data to show “huge” improvements and strides on test scores.

And then I got back to the office and really got to digging into the numbers and reading press releases.

I started off with the ever-so-optimistic OSSE press release which confirmed the findings I’d recently heard at the briefing. Next I ventured into Bill Turque’s somewhat somber take in the Post and realized I had drunk the Kool-Aid. Next,  I read DCPS' press release, which seemed to offer some middle ground.

The long and short of it is, DCPS students in middle and high schools (grades 7,8 and 10) have shown significant progress in both math and reading in the past five years. Since 2007, reading scores in for these "secondary school" grades have gone up about 13 percentage points and math almost 20 percentage points. However, the progress has been much shorter year over year.  In the last year, reading has improved a scant 1.1 percentage points, and 3.3 percentage points in math. Not terrific, but not too shabby either.

The bad news is, well, let’s just say the word “stabilized” was used more than often when referring to elementary school scores. After a dip in scores last year, this year there was only little improvement, but the overall trend shows improvement since 2007.  

DCPS teachers may be breathing a sigh of relief with these modest gains. But the fact is, they are modest and the progress of reform continues show incremental results. Less than half of elementary students in DCPS and charter schools are proficient in reading and math (43.9% in reading and 43.3% in math). That is still abysmal. Research shows that if children are not reading at grade-level by the third grade, they may never catch up. We need to accelerate the gains in the early years to see better results through high school and college.