Despite Reforms, No Measurable Reading or Math Gains for DC 3rd Graders

The first goal of the five-year plan DC Public Schools (DCPS) released this year is: “To improve achievement rates.” Recognizing the need to improve reading and math proficiency is a good first step.

We hope our new DC KIDS COUNT policy brief, Third Grade Proficiency in DC: Little Progress (2007-2011) , will help city leaders working to meet this goal. The brief, released today, mines five years of third grade reading and math test scores (from the DC Comprehensive Assessment System, or DC CAS) for insights about citywide proficiency, the achievement gap and neighborhood disparities.

Our results? We could not prove any statistically significant citywide progress from 2007-2011 in reading or math proficiency. The same held true when we broke scores down by race, by DCPS schools, DC public charter schools, students from economically advantaged or students from economically disadvantaged families.

When we looked at proficiency scores by school address, we found revealing, though not surprising, disparities among neighborhoods. Most notably, our analysis showed high levels of correlation between third grade proficiency and neighborhood economic indicators, such as poverty and median family income.

Knowing what steps to take to improve proficiency is a little more challenging. So the brief also presents:

•    National research on the importance of proficiency by third grade for future educational success and

•    Examples from around the country of cities, states and regions making promising strides in support of early learning.

•    Recommendations we believe should guide any action the city takes in this area based on the research and promising practices in other states and cities.

Low proficiency scores and little of evidence of progress among DC’s third graders need immediate attention from us all. The city’s recent investments in Pre-K should continue to help improve proficiency scores moving forward, but we continue to be concerned about how the lack of community assets may hold too many DC children back.

We hope this brief will spark conversations, new ideas and effective action. For our city’s future, we need neighborhood-focused 0-8 educational strategies that will work for all children and families.

Note: We are grateful to Bonnie O’Keefe, DC Action’s Summer 2012 Education Pioneers Fellow for the analysis, as well as support from our partners at Elder Research and DataKind.

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