Twenty-five percent of D.C. Public Schools 10th-graders who took the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers in English and 10 percent of students who took the test in geometry demonstrated proficiency in each subject, indicating low levels of college and career readiness and revealing potential flaws within the Common Core curriculum.
The results show a discrepancy in performance among demographics; white students, who make up around 10 percent of the citywide sophomore class, generally outscored the minority students who took the exam.
DCPS adopted Common Core standards five years ago in an attempt to increase the range and rigor of education in public schools nationwide. The District, along with 11 states, developed the PARCC as a replacement for other standardized tests to evaluate student progress toward set standards in English and mathematics.
According to DCPS Press Secretary Michelle Lerner, school administrators expected the poor performance scores.
“These results are sobering, but we were not surprised by these results,” Lerner wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We are holding ourselves and our students to a high standard and our first outcomes show that we have a great deal of work to do. Again, we are making strong investments in our teachers, our curriculum and our schools. We expect these scores to improve each year.”
Lerner hopes that higher expectations from teachers and school officials will help drive student academic progress.
“We know that if we set the bar high, our students can meet that standard,” Lerner wrote. “We have a lot of work ahead of us to prepare our students, but we know that we will continue to make steady progress toward that goal.”
Jane Hannaway, a McCourt School of Public Policy professor and founding director of the National Center for the Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research, said the scores do not represent the gains made by DCPS in the past years.
“Historically, D.C. schools have been very low performers,” Hannaway said. “That shows up in the regular standardized tests. But in gains, they’re way ahead of the game.”
She highlighted the 2015 National Assessment of Education Progress as evidence of improvement; in it, fourth-graders jumped seven points in reading and three points in math overall since 2013.
Hannaway said the scores may not accurately portray the value of the Common Core, given that the standards have not had time to take full effect.
“These level scores are tricky because learning begets learning,” Hannaway said. “The real test is going to come when we start looking at the performances of kids who have been in the system for a number of years.”
Cary Finnegan, the Center for Social Justice program director for D.C. Reads, agreed that the new standards for public schools need more time to show noticeable results. Finnegan added that poor performance scores on this particular exam may not be valid representations of college and career readiness.
“If the data was showing better numbers, but on a less rigorous assessment, that would not mean good things for DCPS students as they enter college or the workforce unprepared,” Finnegan wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The vast majority of students who took the exam were minorities. Less than 10 percent of PARCC test-takers were white. However, white students drastically outperformed minority peers.
Six percent of the English test-takers were white, and 82 percent of their scores indicated college and career readiness. In comparison, of the 78 percent of test takers who were black, only 20 percent scored in this range.
Additionally, Hispanic students made up 13 percent of test-takers, with only 25 percent labeled as college-and-career-ready.
In the math section of the PARCC exam, the scores showed a similar pattern. White students made up eight percent of the test takers, and 52 percent of them demonstrated college and career readiness.
While 76 percent of the math test takers were black, only four percent passed. Again, Hispanic students made up 13 percent of the students taking the test; however, merely 8 percent of them were labelled college-and-career-ready.
Hannaway attributed the disparity to the fact that many minority students come from low-income families — a factor that greatly contributes to student achievement levels.
Finnegan said these test scores are an indication of the importance of the Center For Social Justice’s work in supporting students of low-income families.
“The data reaffirms that now more than ever, it is imperative that students consider ways that they can reach out and do work that will have a positive and meaningful impact on the greater D.C. community,” Finnegan wrote. “Whether it is a CSJ program or another GU program doing important work in D.C. communities, it is critically important that Georgetown students find ways to get involved and help schools prepare youth to be college and career ready.”
Morgan Trevett (COL ’19) is a member of the After School Kids Program, an initiative that mentors adjudicated youths in the D.C. area. The students Trevett works with are all enrolled in DCPS.
“The minority students that I work with come from some pretty low-income neighborhoods,” Trevett said. “I think that it’s really hard for them to reach their full potential, education-wise, because that’s not what they know.”
Despite the overall poor results, a few highly selective and charter schools in the District reported higher proficiency scores. Students at School Without Walls, a selective public high school, had proficiency rates of 76 percent in math and 97 percent in English.