Tuesday's test scores announcement represents a mixed bag -- not just for D.C. Public Schools students, but also for the incumbent mayor, who has poignantly draped education reform around the shoulders of his re-election campaign.
It was just two weeks ago that Rhee stepped out ahead of Fenty's challenger and all but said she would quit her job if D.C. Council Chairman Vince Gray wins the Democratic primary this fall. The move unquestionably placed Rhee at the center of the mayoral duel. Since then, Gray has said only that school reform should be the product of a well-formed program, and not exist at the whim of any one person.
The campaigning on both sides forced Fenty and Rhee to couch their Tuesday announcement that math and reading scores for elementary school students had fallen for the first time since Rhee took the helm three years ago in the language of long-term achievements. Elementary school scores, they said, are up overall under Rhee's reign.
Taking the long-view is "disingenuous," and voters won't buy it, said D.C. political and advocacy consultant Chuck Thies.
"If you see something like this, you can't say it's an upward trend," Thies said. "Three years is just not enough data to say this is a blip."
Fenty and Rhee then pulled the cloth from the high school test scores that describe a steady climb over the past three years of Rhee's reform agenda.
That upward movement, combined with Fenty's record on education reform, will help parents look away from the elementary school score slip when they hit the primary polls in September, said community activist Terry Lynch.
"Parents see the improvements to facilities and programs during the Fenty administration," said Lynch, the executive director of the Downtown Cluster of Congregations.
"I don't think anyone expects a straight curve when you're bringing such significant change," he said.For Gray, the falling elementary test scores were a "cause of great concern" and he used the opportunity to call into question Fenty's school reform platform. "Given that this mayor has made test scores the sole measure of success in our schools," Gray said, "we need to take a very close look to figure out why test scores are declining, and why small gains made in the last two years have proven unsustainable."