Back-to-school (2015) newsletter

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Wilson Budget Saga–better, but continuing; Free Metro; PARCC Standards; What We Need to Know About DC Schools and Don’t; Credit Flexibility for HS students? Diplomas for GED recipients?

For those of you with kids in school, I hope you’ve had a great first week! I joined Councilwoman Mary Cheh on one day of her annual Ward 3 school readiness tour, which was also joined by new Ward 4 Councilman Brandon Todd. I saw the final touches of fix-up going on at Janney, Murch, Deal, and Wilson and met the new principals of Janney (Alysia Lutz) and Wilson (Kimberly Martin). Good luck to both of them and to everyone leading our schools, teaching and staffing our schools—and especially attending them.
As the school year starts, I want to share a few updates. As always, feel free to email me at You can also follow me on twitter @ruth4schools, which is the fastest way for me to get news out.

The Wilson HS funding saga—DCPS dribbles out additional funds.
As many of you know: Last spring, DCPS announced a cut for Wilson High School that amounted to a per-student cut of $1.8 million, equivalent to 10%. The Wilson community and CM Cheh, asked for one-half of it, $900,000, to be restored. Following a great deal of community advocacy, the Education Committee, chaired by David Grosso, added funding to the DCPS budget, with the intention that roughly $300,000 of the new funds would go to Wilson. Later, the full City Council, added more funding, with the intent of restoring full $900,000 to the Wilson budget.
That should have been the end of it. But, DCPS refused to pass on the funds to Wilson. At one point, the intent was to pass on just the initial $300,000. Then, it was just over $400,000. Then it was announced two weeks ago in the Northwest Current that it would be $640,000. Now, I’ve heard it might be up to $680,000.
Why this budget restoration, still incomplete, had to happen in dribs and drabs–and not fully and early–so that Wilson could properly plan for the fall is baffling. Meanwhile, DCPS has said many times that if, indeed, enrollments are as high as projected this fall, it stands ready to work with Wilson to make sure the school is properly staffed. Stay tuned.
Strong schools need adequate funding; they also need that funding to be stable and predictable. Next year, I intend to be a more careful and early observer of school budgets here and citywide. If this is how Wilson is treated, what’s happening elsewhere?

Free Metro for students going to and from school/school events.
If you’re not already aware: Starting this school year, students can ride the Metro to and from school and school events for free. The free fare is handled through your student’s DC One Card. To sign up for the DC One Card or to sign the Card up for the free fare, go to

What we need to know about DC schools—and don’t. See my Washington Post op-ed!
As we know from our own Wilson saga, school budget transparency is minimal. But, there’s no public reporting of how high teacher turn-over is around the city (though anecdotes suggest it is very, and especially, high in high-poverty schools) or how much testing there is or whether it is eroding the science, history-social studies, and arts curriculum. We don’t really know how much progress students or schools are making!!! And, I could go on. A recent report commissioned by the DC Auditor and conducted by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences lays it all out, and it’s not pretty. See my op-ed on this in the Washington Post.
How will PARCC tests be scored? I went to one of the Scoring Conferences! PARCC is in the final phase of determining the scoring standards for last year’s tests. I was invited by the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) to observe one of the PARCC scoring conferences, where teachers and curriculum/instructional experts for each grade/subject work to recommend the standards that will be used to score each test. Participants included four teachers from DC! I was very impressed with the seriousness of the effort and the thoughtfulness of the participants.
The conference ran for five full days. Participants first took the test themselves and discussed and familiarized themselves with the official descriptions of what each score point (5,4,3,2,1) is supposed to represent. In a very systematic way, over three “scoring rounds,” participants discussed their scoring decisions with their peers, considered such additional information as how students actually fared on each question, reflected on the scoring decisions they had made, and modified their decisions if they so chose. The emphasis was not on consensus, but on “reflection.” The result was a final set of (median) scores that reflected where the group thought the “cut scores” should be set—that is, how many score points students must receive in order to reach each level (5,4,3,2,1).

So, how hard will it be? Based on what I saw the scoring will be pretty tough, and not too many students will be earning the top scores. Get ready for scores to be fairly low compared to the DC-CAS, DC’s previous test.
But, keep in mind the scores across the two tests are not meant to mean the same thing. Under DC-CAS, the key score point was “proficient,” with students also able to earn scores above and below that. With PARCC, the key question is: Is this student on-track to “likely” enter college without having to take remedial, non-credit-bearing courses. Going forward, PARCC will be following its students and adjusting the scoring thresholds based on evidence of how students actually fared in college and the workplace. For more on PARCC and its scoring, go to

When will we get results?
In the future, PARCC plans to report results soon after the school year ends. But, as this is the first year and scoring guidelines and other protocols and policies had to be established, results won’t be reported until late in the fall, probably November.

Please send me comments and observations on the PARCC. The State Board has been and will continue to provide feedback and advice to OSSE on the PARCC. I am very interested in any advice/feedback you have. Please email me at I will be providing informal feedback at our working meeting on Sept 2 and likely more formal comments at our public meeting on September 16.

Coming up at the State Board: High School Issues
The Board will be considering two revisions to high school graduation requirements, as described below. I am a member of the Credit Flexibility Task Force (chaired by Ward 1 State Board member Laura Wilson Phelan) and am leading the State Board’s work on determining whether to award diplomas to students who earn high school equivalency certificates. I’m very interested in hearing your thoughts on both of these.

High School Credit Flexibility Task Force: This Task Force, which will ultimately make a recommendation to the State Board, is considering whether there are circumstances under which students should be able to earn high school credit (known as a “Carnegie” unit) for activities other than semester and year-long courses that provide a required number of instructional hours. On the one hand, this could allow sensible changes such as allowing students to earn foreign language credit for demonstrated proficiency in languages they learned abroad or at home. But, on the other, if not well-structured, it could easily open the door to awarding credit for substantially less or less rigorous work, which could undermine the meaning of DC high school credits—and exacerbate curricular inequities across DC schools. The Task Force, which I sit on, will be hearing testimony over the course of the fall.

High School Diplomas for High School Equivalency Recipients? The State Board will be considering whether recipients of the GED and another high school equivalency test, the NEDP, should be awarded DC high school diplomas. The GED has substantially raised its passing standard, fueling the case for this change. On the other hand, DC high school students are required to take a breadth of courses, participate in a range of class assignments, and attend school regularly over a sustained period of time, giving them a different set of qualifications. Should both groups of students get the same diploma? The Board will be looking at many aspects of this, including the rigor of the new GED standards.

Opportunities to participate
Collaboration between DCPS and Charters
The Deputy Mayor is forming a task force aimed at improving collaboration between DCPS and charters. For more information,

Student Advisory Committee
The State Board of Education is establishing a student advisory committee. The committee will have a certain number of students from particular high schools or collections of high schools. One of the members will be from Wilson High School. If you know of a student who should apply, send them to

Ruth Wattenberg,
Ward 3 Member, DC State Board of Education

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