Middle, high schoolers fare better in standardized tests

Fewer D.C. Public Schools elementary students passed the city's standardized reading and math tests in 2010, while their peers in middle and high school saw their fourth consecutive year of gains.

Just over 44 percent of elementary students scored "proficient" or "advanced" in reading, down from nearly 49 percent in 2009. Just over 43 percent scored similarly in math, down from 48 percent in 2009. When Chancellor Michelle Rhee took over the school system in 2007, less than 38 percent of students passed the reading exam and barely 29 percent met the standard for math.

"You have to look at the overall three-year picture," Rhee said Tuesday, speaking alongside Mayor Adrian Fenty at Ballou Senior High School in Congress Heights. "You're going to have some times of setbacks, and you have to redouble your efforts at those points.

"We still know we have so far to go," she said.

The dip among elementary students came at an inopportune time for Fenty as he campaigns largely on school progress made under Rhee, his schools appointee. He appeared somewhat perplexed when asked by a parent why his office doesn't do more to communicate the school system's results.

"I grew up in D.C. when people, all they did was talk and talk. I like to do," he said. "People can look around and see the progress."

Fenty and Rhee touted the gains among middle and high schoolers -- a population known for its ability to thwart school systems' attempted reforms nationwide.

More than 43 percent of secondary students scored proficient or advanced on math and reading exams, up from about 40 percent in 2009. In 2007, less than 30 percent met the mark for reading, and barely 27 percent met it for math.

The scores will be used, with numerous other factors, to gauge teachers' classroom performance under the school system's new method of evaluation. Good scores could set teachers on track for bonuses under the recently passed teachers contract. Less impressive results could put teachers at greater risk of losing their jobs, should a school be forced to downsize.

Michael Casserly, executive director of the advocacy group Council of Great City Schools, said parents should feel "encouraged" by the district's results.

"I didn't read too much into the dips at the elementary level because in the long-term improvement of any urban school district, you rarely see movement in straight lines upward," he said.

Casserly noted that DCPS was the only one of his group's 65 city districts to see "double-digit growth in both their state reading and math scores [at the secondary level] over the most recent three years."

Scores among D.C.'s charter school students remained relatively stable from 2009. About 44 percent of charter elementary students passed the reading exam, while 43 percent scored similarly for math. About 52 percent of secondary students met the standard for reading, while nearly 58 percent passed the math portion.