NW Current on Wilson/Walls test score drop

Administrative glitches (Sept. 14, 2016)

The goal of the District’s standardized tests is an important one — to ensure that students, teachers, schools and the city as a whole are on the right track for education. Accordingly, we’re troubled to hear education officials saying that this year’s Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exams can’t make definitive conclu- sions about high school students’ achievement.

The issue apparently stems from poor scheduling at two of D.C.’s best-performing high schools — Wilson and School Without Walls, which each saw a double-digit decline in at least one test. At Wilson, proficiency rates on the English exam plummeted from about 50 percent to 21 percent.

The specifics of the issue are in question. D.C. Public Schools offi- cials say that many high-performing students blew off their PARCC tests so they could study for Advanced Placement exams that they’d be taking soon after. Ward 3 State Board of Education member Ruth Wattenberg suggests the broader issue is that many students were inappropriately given exams for classes they weren’t taking at the time.

We don’t know which account is true, or whether it’s a combination of factors. But the reality is that test performance saw a huge drop, and that the fault likely lies in the tests’ administration. This concern is extremely serious and must be investigated and fully resolved before the next PARCC tests are administered. Students must be given the correct exams, and students must not be asked to sacrifice their preparation for important Advanced Placement or SAT exams.

Sadly, this year’s failures will have far-reaching consequences. We can draw no conclusions from PARCC about this year’s academic prog- ress at D.C. high schools — we don’t know which teachers were won- derful and which were ineffective, we don’t know what schools have improved or still struggle, and we don’t have adequate data on achieve- ment gaps among different demographics. In comparing scores from different schools and demographics, we can’t tell which suffered due to lack of effort or the wrong class versus which need additional attention.

Issues will persist into next year, as this year’s PARCC data won’t allow for valid year-to-year comparisons. Even if performance does improve, we won’t know for sure just how much of it is the students and instruction, versus how much is just correcting the flaws of test adminis- tration. These errors are inexcusable, and D.C. officials must work hard to ensure that accountability exams aren’t a waste of time and money.