Thx for revised Wilson Budget; School report cards! Nov 5, 2017

November 5, Newsletter from Ruth Wattenberg, Ward 3 Member, DC State Board of Education. Click to subscribe. 

Please Circulate...

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Wilson budget: Thanks to Chancellor Wilson and DCPS for restoring the staff positions cut this spring!

     Anybody who reads this newsletter knows that I have been extremely critical of DC Public Schools (DCPS) for its budgeting practices–and especially for the repeated, 3-years-in-a-row staff cuts at Wilson High School, totaling some 30 staff cuts over three years.
But now there’s good news! To their great credit, Chancellor Antwan Wilson and his staff worked with Wilson Principal Kim Martin and the Wilson LSAT (local school advisory team) to restore the positions that were lost last spring.  Many, many thanks! (For details on the staffing restoration, see the letter below to Wilson parents from the school’s PTSO presidents.)
Kudos and thanks as well to the community that cares so much about Wilson. Many, many parents, students, and community members wrote, emailed, and called the Chancellor, the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor and members of the City Council.  Wilson’s PTSO and LSAT leaders testified before the Council and wrote letters and called throughout the summer. Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh was tireless in pressing the issue.

A very welcome beginning… but, just a beginning!

      This is an important, very welcome start! That said, Wilson was understaffed when it opened in the fall–hiring to make up for the cuts is still underway–all the positions aren’t permanent, and Wilson is still down about 20 staff over three years, despite higher enrollment (1793 in spring 2015;1835 today.). But fingers crossed, I am hopeful that in this next budget cycle, Wilson’s overall staff situation will be addressed–and that the broader broken budget process, in which inaccurate budget projections lead to reduced budgets that never get remedied (for all schools, not just Wilson!), will be fixed. I’ll keep you posted.

DCPS Budget Hearing, November 14, 6-8PM, at Stuart Hobson Middle School

Speaking of the budget…. DCPS will hold its first Budget Hearing for the new fiscal year on Tuesday.  If you are interested in testifying, register online no later than 3 pm, Friday, November 10. For questions/concerns, contact the DCPS School Funding Team: (202) 442-5112 or dcps.schoolfunding@dc.gov.  I encourage you to attend!

 

Chancellor’s Community Forums.           

DCPS has announced a series of Forums at which the Chancellor and his top leadership will discuss priorities with the community.  For a full list of dates/times, click here.  For Ward 3/Wilson Feeder schools, the forums are:

       ***Monday, January 9, 6-7:30PM, Lafayette ES, 5701 Broad Branch Rd.
       ***Monday, February 6, 8:45AM-10 am, Oyster-Adams, 2801 Calvert St.
       ***Monday, February 6, 6-7:30PM, Hardy MS, 1819 35th St. NW

DC Council Ed Committee Roundtable on Special Education 
Monday, November 20, 2017 – 10:00AM – Room 412

The topic: The state of special education services in DC’s traditional and public charter schools and OSSE’s implementation report on the “Enhanced Special Education Services Act of 2014. To testify, sign-up online or call the Committee at (202) 724-8061 by 5:00pm Thursday, November 16. 2017.

 

Apply: Student/Parent Advisory Committee, Office of the Student Advocate. 

The Office of the Student Advocate, housed at the State Board of Education, is charged with supporting families in their efforts to navigate the complexities of the DC public education system, including developing resources and boosting parent engagement.  To aid its efforts, the office is launching the Parent and Student Advisory Committee. For more information on the Advisory committee, click here.  To apply, click here.

SPECIAL FOCUS:

School Report Cards:
What do you want to know about your school?

 

         DC is developing a new “school report card,” as required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). This new report card will, for the first time, be common across traditional DC Public Schools (DCPS) and charter schools.  It will allow parents to compare schools “apples to apples.” As importantly, it will give parents the info they need to have useful conversations about the strengths and needs of their children’s schools.
The process:  The content of the report card will be proposed by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and must get approved by the SBOE.  To aid its work, the SBOE has convened a Task Force on ESSA that will offer recommendations on the Report Card as well as other issues. To solicit public views, the SBOE and OSSE are running focus groups, SBOE members are meeting with school communities, and residents are encouraged to complete an online survey. (For participation information, go to bottom.)

What must the Report Card include?

As many of you know, starting next fall, every DC public school will be evaluated based on a new rating system that will grade each school with 1-5 stars.  The number of stars a school gets will be based mainly on whether students reach specific test score thresholds. The remainder is based mainly on attendance, re-enrollment rates, and English-learning progress among limited-English speakers. In high school, the rating will also be based on the percent of students who graduate and take advanced courses [Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate (IB)]. In k-8 schools, a small amount will reflect how much students’ test scores increased relative to similar students.
The report card must also include such required information as per-student funding (provided by government sources); # of suspensions/expulsions; and the number of teachers who are inexperienced, on emergency credentials, uncertified in the subject they’re teaching.

What should the Report include?

What else would provide parents, educators, and policymakers the most useful, accurate view of our schools? What do you want to see on the report card?  See below to take the survey and for information on focus groups that you can attend.  Here are a few of my favorite ideas.  They mainly reflect some of the most common requests that were expressed to the State Board of Education during the city’s debate about ESSA last spring.

1.  Let’s highlight the “growth” made by a school’s students, so that a school’s progress isn’t masked by the heavily income-correlated STAR ratings. Almost every aspect of the STAR rating tells us more about the affluence of students’ families than what students have learned or school quality. In terms of test scores, consider this: Low-income students typically begin the school year multiple grades behind their more advantaged peers. Even if a school full of students with very low initial scores improve their average achievement by well over a full grade—let’s say a grade-and-a-half or even a huge two full years!—that school’s students are still unlikely to reach the test score thresholds that would earn the school a high STAR rating.  This means that the STAR rating will almost certainly award the largest number of stars to the schools with the highest-income students and the smallest number to schools with the lowest-income students.
A poor rating for these schools, even though they may be effective, could and likely will lead families to avoid them, possibly leading to enrollment and budget drop-offs, causing great harm to effective schools and the students who attend them.  But, if we highlight the growth students make, not just whether they meet a certain score threshold, we would reduce this unfortunate problem.

2. Let’s highlight the attention elementary schools give to social studies, science, and the arts.
The STAR rating holds schools accountable for an important, but very narrow, band of outcomes: mainly math and reading scores—sometimes to the disadvantage of other subjects and school goals.  I have heard many, many complaints about this, especially at the elementary level, where protected time for social studies, science, and the arts isn’t typically provided.  Research literature also speaks to the damage done by curriculum-narrowing.  The report card is our chance to encourage our schools to focus on a broad rich curriculum.  One idea: elementary schools should report how much time per week students spend on these subjects.

3. Report on the quality of a school’s culture or “feel.”  Known in education jargon as “school climate,” it refers to such intangibles as whether students in a school feel safe, challenged, and nurtured; whether staff feel that they have the tools and support to be successful in educating their students; and whether parents feel welcome and respected.  This important aspect of school quality goes largely unmeasured in the STAR rating.  So let’s highlight it on the Report Card.  Some states are using sophisticated, nationally- normed student/teacher/parent surveys to report on this aspect of school quality. OSSE is currently piloting such surveys.  Also, especially high teacher turnover is often an indicator of an unhealthy school culture; the Report Card can report on that as well. (I called exceedingly high teacher turnover the “canary in the classroom” in this City Paper article.)

4. Health information: I hear a lot of interest from parents in having access to health information: For example, does the school have a full-time nurse? How much time is devoted to recess and physical education? Are the lunches nutritious?

5. Beyond school quality and effectiveness, schools have strengths, weaknesses, and offerings that may be of great interest to parents.  Does it have a special curricular focus?  What clubs/teams are available? Does it offer an after-school program? How much emphasis is put on test preparation Do students go on field trips?

What’s your view? Please take this survey.  Plus, the State Board’s ESSA Task Force, State Board members, and OSSE are scheduling community feedback meetings around the city.
I’ll be leading a session hosted at Hardy Middle School on November 16 at 7pm.  To register, click here. In addition, I’m meeting (or met with) with PTSO’s and/or LSAT’s at Janney, Wilson, and Eaton and would be very happy to schedule meetings at other schools as well.  Let me know if you’d like to be part of such a discussion.
See here and here for a list of additional focus groups around the city.
And, as always, if you have thoughts on the above suggestions or anything else, please email me, ruth4schools@yahoo.com.

I’m off to visit the leaves in West Virginia! Happy Fall!!!!

Ruth Wattenberg,
ruth4schools@yahoo.com, @ruth4schools, ruth4schools.com

Mayor’s below-inflation budget proposal is unsustainable for our schools

Sign the Petition/Email City Council
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@ruth4schools ruth4schools.com ruth4schools@yahoo.com
Please Circulate

Mayor’s below-inflation budget proposal is unsustainable for our schools
Unless the City Council intervenes in a big way, our schools will be badly hurt by the Mayor’s proposed education budget. This will be the third straight year in which per student funding for public schools will decline in real terms.
Because of the way DC Public Schools (DCPS) allocates funds to schools, the most severe effects are felt by the largest schools, at all grade levels. At Wilson High School, the citywide high school located here in ward 3, eight staff will be cut, including two counselors. This is on top of 9 staff cut last year and 12 the year before: A total of 29 staff cut in three years.
These cuts will affect schools across the city. At the only somewhat smaller Columbia Heights Education Campus, 5 staff are being cut. At Eastern and Ballou, two other large high schools, schools are losing some combination of teachers, counselors, art programming, office and custodial staff.
This is a key time to tell members of the City Council that the proposed education budget must be raised and that new funds must get to the schools that are most affected.

Please do three things:
1.Please sign this petition, which will be submitted to the Council, calling for the full 3.5% increase and an assurance that added funds are allocated directly to schools, especially those that have been most damaged by the proposed cuts.
2. Please circulate this petition to your family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues.
3. Please email City Council members: Please talk about the specific issues facing your school, the citywide need, and the importance of a more transparent, sensible
DCPS process for allocating funds to individual schools.
pmendelson@dccouncil.us
abonds@dccouncil.us
dgrosso@dccouncil.us
esilverman@dccouncil.us e
rwhite@dccouncil.us
bnadeau@dccouncil.us
jevans@dccouncil.us
mcheh@dccouncil.us
btodd@dccouncil.us
kmcduffie@dccouncil.us
callen@dccouncil.us
vgray@dccouncil.us
twhite@dccouncil.us
(and I’d love if you’d bc me: ruth4schools@yahoo.com)

Thanks!
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Should DC rate its schools mainly on reading and math test scores? What the new fed’l law allows

Jan. 23, 2016 Newsletter

Should DC rate its schools mainly on reading and math test scores? What the new fed’l law allows

Also:
Ward 3-Wilson Feeder Education Network Meetings: State Superintendent Hanseul Kang and W3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh to speak at next two Ed Network meetings/ Updates on Fillmore, Old Hardy School/ New network for teachers across private/public/charter sectors
Email me at ruth4schools@yahoo.com. Follow me at @ruth4schools. Visit ruth4schools.com.
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Happy Holidays and Happy Winter to all!
Over the next two months, the State Board of Education (SBOE) will be working with the Office of the State Superintendent (OSSE) to hammer out an agreement about a new accountability system for DC schools. The main portion of this newsletter is aimed at providing readers with some background, especially on current problems and our options under the new law.

How should we rate our schools?

School rating systems don’t teach kids or provide schools with needed resources. But they matter, a lot.
The way in which schools are rated can encourage–or impede–good school programs and practices. For many years, DC’s school rating system, with its virtually complete emphasis on reading and math test scores, has been largely dictated by the old No Child Left Behind law. Fortunately, the replacement law, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), gives all states (including DC) the chance to revise this system.

The current system rates schools narrowly on reading/math test scores

The parents, educators and residents that I speak to around the city believe that academic achievement is the top priority and that reading and math are fundamental. But, they also believe schools must be much more: The emphasis on reading and math test scores is causing other parts of the curriculum (social studies, science, arts) to be squeezed out. Testing is taking too much time, and the hyper-focus on it is damaging school culture. School environment and culture matter too—very much. They want their schools to have lively and engaging classes, more writing, a concern with building citizenship and a taste for skeptical, critical thinking, as well as a school culture that is welcoming, nurturing, safe, orderly, and challenging.

New law gives states/DC more flexibility in judging school quality

Since No Child Left Behind went into effect in the early 2000’s, every state, including DC, was required to adopt a school evaluation system in which schools were rated and held accountable based on the proportion of students who reached the “Proficient” level on math and reading tests.
Bipartisan dissatisfaction with NCLB, including increasing dismay with over-testing, led Congress to replace NCLB with the new Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) at the end of 2015. The law gives states more latitude to determine how they will hold their schools accountable. Here are a few examples of the new law’s flexibility:

1. The new law allows states to rate schools on more than just reading and math test scores.
In the words of John King, Obama’s Secretary of Education,
“Done well and thoughtfully, assessments provide vital information… and identify the gaps that must be addressed to ensure equity. But in some places, an exclusive emphasis on the tested subjects drove a narrowing of what was taught and learned; worse, test prep and narrowly defined “time on task” sometimes came to replace a diversity of classes.”
“The good news here is that, with the passage of Every Student Succeeds Act… the opportunity to widen how we understand educational excellence is suddenly ripe.”

2. The new law requires states to include a non-test measure of school quality, for example of “school climate”
Test scores provide extremely important information about how much students know. But, whether they’re learning–and at what rate–depends on other factors, including what’s known as school “culture” or climate. A recent research review of many school climate studies indicates that schools with a positive climate “have the potential to narrow achievement gaps among students of different SES backgrounds and between students with stronger and weaker academic abilities.”
In cities like DC, struggling with terrible achievement gaps, putting some focus on school climate makes huge sense–and the law supports that direction. Plus, a climate measurement can signal schools that while achievement is paramount, a positive school culture promotes achievement–and is well worth investing in for its own sake.

3. The new law allows emphasis on student “growth” over “proficiency.”
Yup. It’s wonky. But, as former comedian Sen. Al Franken told Ed. Sec Designate Betsy DeVos during her confirmation hearing, it’s super important! The upside of DeVos’s befuddlement is the outpouring from researchers and writers on the meaning and importance of emphasizing growth when ranking schools.
Urban Institute researcher Matt Chingos wrote that whether a student reaches a proficiency threshold or not reflects not just what students learn a school “but also the knowledge they brought when they enrolled,” and that growth measures are helpful in “correcting for that by examining the progress students make while enrolled at a given school.”
Writing for The Root, educator Kelly Wickham Hurst explained that when a school suddenly enrolls many new students with extremely low reading levels (in Hurst’s example, previously home-schooled students), scores fall. “Schools get punished in the proficiency model, and that’s no accident,” she says, arguing that charters/private schools are helped when proficiency-based scores depict regular schools as failures.
Interestingly, though, the most scathing indictment of overusing proficiency scores comes from Matt Baum, on the website of T74, a strong advocate of school choice:
“The school could be doing a great job helping kids improve, but if they start out at a very low level, that might not show up on proficiency measures. Put simply, proficiency rewards schools for the students they take in, but not necessarily for how they teach students once they’re there.”

“[J]udging schools based on a measure that is largely outside of their control, as proficiency would do, can lead to a host of negative consequences.”
” Most simply, the wrong schools may receive accolades or sanctions. If a school with low proficiency but high growth gets closed down for allegedly poor performance, students are unlikely to benefit.”
“Since proficiency scores are highly correlated with poverty, using them to rate schools inevitably means that low-income schools will, by and large, get the worst scores. This may make such schools less desirable places to work, since they face stigma and accountability pressure, potentially driving away good teachers from the schools that need them most.
That’s what the law allows. Now it’s up to us.

Each state (including DC) must come up with its own system of evaluating schools. Under DC law, the initial proposal for how schools should be rated is developed and issued by OSSE. That proposal then stands for approval or rejection by the State Board of Education. OSSE issued an initial draft in October, which the SBOE strongly critiqued. It presented a more detailed proposal to the SBOE in January.
In both drafts, 80% of the rating is based on reading and math test scores, proficiency gets as much weight as growth (in high school, growth doesn’t count at all), and the only measurements of school environment included are attendance and re-enrollment.

Ward meetings, public comments: Coming in February.

OSSE will produce a new draft on January 31. The public will have 33 days to comment on it. In addition, OSSE and SBOE will host community meetings in every ward to give the public an opportunity to react and make suggestions. OSSE will then prepare a final draft, which is scheduled for an up or down vote by the State Board of Education.
Please come to these meetings and make your views known to the Superintendent and the State Board of Education. The dates for these meetings are being finalized. I will send out the dates when I learn them.

Calendar:
Ward3-Wilson Feeder School Education Network meetings

***Tues, Jan. 31
7pm
Georgetown Library.
with State Education Superintendent Hanseul Kang
Bring your questions about PARCC testing, how DC will assess schools under the new federal accountability law, DC-TAG, and other issues handled by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE).

**Wed, Feb 23,
6:45 PM
Tenley Library
with Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh.
The focus of the meeting will be to talk about the overcrowding and lack of space in the W3/Wilson Feeder schools and possible solutions.

Updates

Old Hardy School– As many of you know, there was a City Council vote to “surplus” the old Hardy school building on Foxhall Rd. Many of us have argued that it’s premature to surplus the building before making sure that there is a viable plan to provide needed space for the area’s overcrowded schools, now and into the future.
As it turns out, the Mayor won’t sign any legislation to move it forward until there is time for public input. Meanwhile, Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh will be meeting soon with the Ward 3-Wilson Feeder Education Network to discuss the area’s school capacity needs so they can be addressed as the Old Hardy issue moves forward.

Fillmore Arts Center– Once again, it was announced that the Fillmore Arts Center would be closed down. This action would have ended forever an innovative, first-class arts education program that DCPS has invested in and built up over the years. It would also have subjected students at a number of schools, including Key and Stoddert, to a much diminished arts program, given that their schools don’t have space for a dedicated art room.
Thanks to the mayor and DCPS for keeping it open. And, please, please, figure out how it can continue to serve the nearby schools that need it AND students around the city whose arts education would be greatly enhanced through its excellent programming. We know you’re working hard on it. Let’s not face this same threat next year.
Educators: Network with colleagues from other sectors. Teacher Jared Winston from Sheridan School, fresh from an invigorating professional discussion with other independent school teachers, is interested in creating a broader network, connecting teachers across the private, DCPS, and charter sectors. For more info and contact info, link here.

Copyright © 2017 Ruth4schools, All rights reserved.
You are receiving this because you have been active in education issues in Ward 3, follow these issues, or have asked to receive my emails.

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How much should test scores count in school ratings?

How Much on Test Scores? Tell the Board of Ed. 
Contact me at ruth4schools@yahoo.com.
Follow me @ruth4schools. ruth4schools.com.

September 2, 2016
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A Better Way to Rate Schools?
Testify before the State Board of Education
Nov 16, 5:30pm.
To Sign Up, email sboe@dc.gov

 

        Currently, schools are rated almost entirely on reading and math test scores–and almost entirely on the proportion of students who are “proficient,” regardless of how much academic progress students in the school did or didn’t make.  

      This approach has led to many complaints: too much focus on tests and test prep; not enough attention to other subjects; pressure on schools to focus on teaching students who are close to the proficient cusp instead of kids who score substantially higher or lower; a disincentive for schools to enroll challenging students, whose test scores typically grow more slowly; and, not enough attention to the non-academic aspects of education, including providing a nurturing, safe, challenging, engaging environment.
Thanks to the new federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act, passed last year, DC has the chance to greatly revise the basis on which we evaluate school quality. The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) and the State Board of Education (SBOE) have been meeting with members of the community since the spring to hear ideas for fixing the current system.  OSSE produced a “straw man” draft, meant to elicit comment. The SBOE responded with its concerns about what was and wasn’t in the draft.
The discussion now moves to a larger, public stage: the next SBOE meeting, Nov 16 at 5:30. While any member of the public can testify on any issue they want, the three main subjects up for discussion that night are:

  • The Weight of Test Scores:  Our current system overwhelmingly emphasizes test results. We are hearing that this focus on testing has harmful effects on our schools. The OSSE discussion draft suggests a new total test weight of 80%; the SBOE response memo suggests it should be much lower. We need to hear from parents, students, educators, and organizations about how the current testing weight has affected their schools and what they think the new weight  should be.
  • The Weight of Growth in Relation to Proficiency:  Rather than holding schools accountable almost entirely for whether their students reach specific proficiency levels, ESSA offers DC the opportunity to credit schools for the progress students achieve each year, meaning that if students enter the year well below proficiency but make above average strides, the school will be credited for that growth–not penalized because the student hasn’t yet reached proficient. We need to hear from parents, students and organizations on what they believe the appropriate balance is between rating schools based on the proportion of students who meet proficiency thresholds and the actual academic progress the students have made.  .
  • Open, Welcoming Spirit and Other Qualitative Indicators of Quality: In addition to test scores, the SBOE believes that part of a school’s rating should be based on such qualitative factors as whether all students, teachers and parents feel welcome in their schools and such factors as school discipline, attendance, bullying, parent engagement, teacher turnover, student reenrollment, etc. Data for ratings could be drawn from surveys of parents, teachers, and students and from existing data. We need to hear from parents, students and organizations on what factors we should be looking at when assessing our schools. 

    Please consider testifying before the Board on these or related questions.
    Wed. Nov. 16, 5:30 pm
    441 4th St. NW (at Judiciary Square)

    You must sign up by 5 pm, Tuesday Nov 15. Sign up by emailing sboe@dc.gov. 
    Please circulate this information to all interested schools, parents, educators, organizations,

Newsletter from W3 State Board of Ed member, Ruth Wattenberg
ruth4schools@yahoo.com. @ruth4schools. ruth4schools.comPLEASE CIRCULATE…

Test Score Drop at Wilson and Walls—What Happened?

Test Score Drop at Wilson and Walls-What Happened

(And what it says about the need for a chancellor that is committed to much greater responsiveness!)

September 2, 2016 Contact me at ruth4schools@yahoo.com. Follow me @ruth4schools. ruth4schools.com.

Why did scores drop so dramatically at Wilson and Walls?
The release of PARCC (the annual test taken by DC public school students) scores showed small average increases in PARCC scores across most grades and subjects across the city, coupled with dramatic score drops at Wilson, and School Without Walls. Why the drops?
As I explain below, these scores cannot and should not be regarded as valid for concluding anything about achievement at either school. Validity requires that there is something constant, known, and relevant about the students taking the test this year and last. In the case of these two schools, these conditions are absent.

Reasons Offered…
One idea about why the scores dropped–offered by the Chancellor, according to the Washington Post–is that many high- performing students didn’t take the test or didn’t try hard because they and their parents weren’t sufficiently aware of its importance. Another argument, made at the press conference releasing the citywide scores, attributes it to poor handling of administrative issues (artfully worded so that blame is diffuse and no one is held accountable.) A new Post article interviews students who say they were more concerned with doing well on their AP tests, which were scheduled during the same time frame. I’ve also heard it suggested that this is the beginning of an opt-out movement in DC., with parents and students just blowing the test off, as some communities elsewhere have done.
Based on what I know, I don’t think any of these, on their own, are the primary cause for the score drop. And some of these reasons sound an awful lot like efforts to shift the accountability for the problem to the students and schools, and away from the agency (ies) that is/are responsible, as explained next.

Based on what I know, a more likely, fuller cause:
Students at Wilson and Walls were inexplicably assigned to take exams for courses in which they weren’t enrolled. DCPS did not correct the problem, then allowed many exemptions, and problems ensued. Here’s what happened and the context for it.
First, across the country, where PARCC is used, students are supposed to take the PARCC exams that correspond to the classes they are enrolled in. So, in the upper grades, where students from multiple grades may take the same course (9th, 10,th, and 11th graders may all be enrolled in geometry, for example), students are supposed to take the exam that corresponds to the course they are enrolled in; Algebra 1 students should take the Algebra 1 exam, Geometry students the Geometry exam, English 2 students the English 2 exam, etc. If students aren’t enrolled in a course with a corresponding PARCC test (e.g. an AP English test, statistics, etc.), they aren’t supposed to take a PARCC test. This is how it is done in nearby Maryland and New Jersey–and it’s how PARCC recommends that it should be done.
Second, for reasons that remain unclear and unexplained, DCPS did something else: It assigned students to take exams in courses that they were not enrolled in, which struck many people, rightly, as quite nonsensical. How is it useful for a student who took geometry in 8th or 9th grade to take a test in it in 12th grade?
Third, school officials asked the central office to re-assign students, so that they weren’t being asked to take an irrelevant test “wrong” test. Parents raised the problem as well. I raised the problem multiple times with DCPS and with the state education agency (OSSE). The concerns of school officials and parents were ignored; DCPS refused to change it. DCPS and OSSE blamed each other for the problem. (DCPS claims that they were required by OSSE to do what they were doing. OSSE claims that DCPS chose to do it this way, despite OSSE’s contrary recommendation, but that OSSE couldn’t prevent it. I can’t say which is actually the case). What I can say is that both agencies understood the problem. Each blamed the other; neither solved the problem.
Fourth, in an apparent acknowledgement that the practice was wrong, DCPS made clear (to any parent that asked) that it would exempt from the test any mis-assigned student whose parent asked for such an exemption, further assuring that the testing sample for this year would be so questionable that scores from this year could in no way be used to compare student achievement with the previous year’s.
Fifth, DCPS never publicly acknowledged the problem, never reassigned students, and has known since spring that participation would be both low and random. Therefore, it knew that whether the scores were extra high or extra low, they would be invalid. OSSE knew all of this as well. It’s a mystery to me why these scores were reported out at all.

As my mother always said: there are reasons–and real reasons. It is true that many students chose not to take the tests–and that many families supported them. It is also true that DCPS enabled these exemptions. But, it seems like the real reason for the low participation and low effort was an official approach to the tests that was entirely dismissive of good practice, common sense, and reasonable complaints. That led many students and families in these schools to lose their faith in the credibility and usefulness of the city’s testing system.
If we want families and students to support and participate in the testing program–and I very much do–the authorities need to do their part to make it a credible system worth everyone’s time.

Take heart in the knowledge that these scores do not in any way indicate that achievement at Walls or Wilson has dropped!
Of course, since the scores are in effect meaningless, we don’t know that scores haven’t dropped, either. If folks at the schools have concerns that shifts in programming, budget, or anything else have effected achievement, these issues should be carefully examined.

The need for greater responsiveness–and the search for a new Chancellor
Final note: I have heard from many people, both parents and staff—from all over the city–about DCPS’s increasing lack of responsiveness to concerns and issues raised by school communities. That kind of insularity produces bad decisions. In this case, the result is un-useable test scores. In other cases, the result is that students get a lesser quality education.
This is why, in discussions around hiring a new Chancellor, I have been very clear: It is vital that the Mayor hire someone who is committed to taking seriously the voices of school communities—parents, students and staff. People at the school level have an intimate understanding of how issues are playing out. They see problems that can’t be seen by a central office. That doesn’t mean that the school level people are always right or can always be accommodated; we are a citywide system. But, there needs to be a balance. Increasingly, DCPS has been acting in ways that have willfully neglected and rejected the input and information from school communities.
Hiring someone who can help find the right balance should be a priority of the Mayor.

(To see my recommendations for hiring a new Chancellor, from a previous newsletter, click here.)

Newsletter from W3 State Board of Ed member, Ruth Wattenberg
ruth4schools@yahoo.com. @ruth4schools. ruth4schools.com

PLEASE CIRCULATE…

Follow me @ruth4schools contact me: ruth4schools@yahoo.com

Happy Fall !!!!

Aug 18: When will we see PARCC scores?, School readiness tours with CM Cheh, Issues for a new Chancellor

Follow me @ruth4schools contact me: ruth4schools@yahoo.com

Welcome Back to School!
I hope you had a great summer! I am Ward 3’s Member of the State Board of Education. I was elected in November 2014, am the parent of former(!) Janney/Deal/Wilson students, and work professionally in education policy. To subscribe to my newsletter, email ruth4schools@yahoo.com.

When will PARCC scores arrive?
I’ve received many questions about when last spring’s PARCC scores will be released. According to OSSE (Office of the State Superintendent of Education): The aggregate and school-level scores will be posted on the OSSE website in late August. In addition, schools will be able to access individual student reports from a secure portion of the OSSE website at that time. By early September, copies of the student reports will be sent to the schools that students attended in the spring, and these schools will be responsible for distributing the report to families. So for families awaiting their students scores: Sounds like you’ll get them in the first couple of weeks in September.

School Readiness Tours With Councilwoman Mary Cheh;
Checking every toilet, light, and classroom every fall for 10 years!

For ten years, Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh has been conducting annual readiness tours before schools open, visiting every Ward 3 school to make sure every toilet flushes, every light bulb works, supplies and staff are in place, dangerous sidewalk cracks and stairway treads are fixed–and beautiful gardens are admired! Where necessary, she uses her authority to get schools what they need, fast.
I joined her this year, with her chief of staff Dee Smith, constituent services manager Anthony Cassillo, and intern (and Janney/Deal/Wilson grad!) David Fadul and terrifically helpful Department of General Services staff. We visited every Ward 3 school and met with every principal. The schools are in such better shape than in the old days! Still, there were last minute efforts to make sure mold was removed, sidewalk cracks fixed, painting completed, and more.

At Stoddert Elementary, Left to right, SBOE member Ruth Wattenberg, Mary Jane Patterson Fellow, Shenora Plenty, CM Mary Cheh, Principal Donald Bryant, AP Ibis Villegas  (Sorry, no photo here; was in the original)

Chancellor Henderson leaving DCPS. What Next?
The process that will be used to select a new chancellor is explained here by the Washington Post. The members named to the selection committee are shown here. Concerns about the process and committee are explained here. As noted below, Mayor Bowser is eager to take “the pulse of the community” in choosing a new chancellor. Community meetings will be held to solicit community views on what’s needed in a new chancellor.
Roosevelt HS 6:30-8pm,Aug 30
Eastern HS 6:30-8pm, Sep 7
Savoy Elem 6:30-8pm, Sep 14
Childcare and light refreshments. Flyer with dates/sites.

Below are excerpts from my previous newsletter on issues that should be paramount for the new chancellor.

Key issues for a new chancellor
1. Lagging achievement of lowest income students

2. Research on what works and what doesn’t

3. Greater responsiveness to needs of school communities

(excerpted from my July newsletter. http://wp.me/P4TaGy-d3)

My years as a DCPS parent began in 2000, when our first child entered Janney. I think I have lived through five superintendents/chancellors. What a ride it’s been–and, what a great time to take stock. Mayor Bowser has told the Washington Post that “part of searching for a new chancellor will be taking the pulse of the community, getting feedback from stakeholders and moving forward.” A great first step!
Here are 3 issues that I hope the mayor will put front and center as she plans a process and chooses a new chancellor.

1. The lagging achievement of our students with the greatest needs. It is well-known that DC’s average NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test scores have gone up. But this high average growth masks stagnant or very slow progress among our city’s most impoverished and lowest achieving students. A study of DC test scores by DC Action for Children shows that among our lowest-income students, 3rd grade reading scores actually dipped from 2007-2014.
Why? Did top scores go up because the student population now includes more affluent students who statistically tend to score better? Are some reforms having a different impact on students with the greatest academic needs? We need to understand what’s happening, so we can address the enormous achievement gap. Which brings me to:

2. Our urgent need to know much more about what is and isn’t working—and why. DC has launched some of the nation’s most far-reaching, attention-getting education reforms. But have they worked? Did they work in some places, not others? Why?

What can we do to elicit more widespread success?This is the right moment to pursue these questions—and to do so in a way that doesn’t prejudge the answers. Recently I was on a panel with Anthony Bryk, the highly-regarded founder of the Chicago Consortium on School Reform, an independent research group that has partnered for two decades with the Chicago Public Schools.
One of his key principles for successful school research:When establishing research questions, include the people who are absolutely sure the reform will succeed and those who are sure it will fail. That way, you don’t easily fall prey to finding the answers you want, and your findings have greater credibility, even among the skeptics. We have so much to learn in this city–and, so many efforts to learn from. We need more and better data (the new city budget includes an investment in this)—and a commitment to independent research like that modeled by CCSR. (For more on this, see my testimony to City Council’s Committee of the Whole and op-ed in Washington Post.)

3. Engaging, respecting, and responding to the needs and views of local school communities. In my years as a DCPS parent and even more in the year and a half since I’ve been elected, I’ve seen DCPS become increasingly top-down and insular. New programs have been mandated, existing programs eliminated, and school budgets cut at the last minute–in ways that have left school communities, including parent, teachers, students and even principals, with no opportunity to weigh in or thoughtfully consider alternatives. I hear growing reluctance in school communities to invest in thoughtful, creative planning, as the best laid plans can be wiped out by a new mandate or unforeseen budget cut from on-high. This isn’t healthy. Good ideas don’t emerge from insular cultures.We need a better balance between encouraging, engaging and respecting the views of school communities; and the genuine need for coherent district-level programming and planning.

Let me know your thoughts on this and your priorities. ruth4schools@yahoo.com

Offer your views on DCPS Chancellor:

3 Community meetings: 6:30-8PM

Roosevelt HS, Aug 30
Eastern HS, Sept 7
Savoy Elem, Sept 14

Childcare/Light refreshments

See my priorities for a new chancellor here.

Stoddert needs visitor parking passes for teachers!

If you live near Stoddert (in ANC 3-B), consider providing your visitor parking pass to Stoddert, where it can be used by staff. If so, drop it off at the Stoddert school office. Thanks! If other schools have a similar issue, contact me, and I can publicize in next newsletter.

Comments on PARCC?

As a member of the State Board of Education, I will be conveying to the State Board comments, concerns, and compliments about the PARCC tests to OSSE to aid its ongoing effort to make PARCC administration as smooth and productive as possible.
What do you think?
Send concerns/compliments: ruth4schools@yahoo.com.

Report on DC Testing?

The issue of excessive testing is an issue around the country. In response, the federal Secretary of Education has made available funds for states (including DC) to study the quantity and quality of testing in an effort to more fully understand how the various testing requirements play out at the school level and to streamline it. I have urged DC to undertake such a study and will continue to do so. If you have any thoughts on this please email me at ruth4schools@yahoo.com

Apply for the SBOE’s Student Advisory Committee

The State Board of Education is looking for new student voices to help influence our work.

Click here to Find out what it’s like to serve as a student rep on the SBOE and more about the application process online.

Call the Ombudsman…

If you believe that your schools is not providing adequate services to your child, and you have been unable to resolve the issue on your own with school faculty or administration, you may contact the State Board of Education’s Ombudsman for mediation at ombudsman@dc.gov Also: @DC_Ombuds.

Happy Fall !!!!

July 1 Newsletter: Issues for a new chancellor/Accountability Survey/Cappie awards

Issues for a New Chancellor; Ellington/Wilson; Student Reps; School Evaluation Survey

To get on my regular email list, write, ruth4schools@yahoo.com. Follow me at @ruth4schools.

Chancellor Henderson to leave DCPS. What Next?

Chancellor Henderson has announced that she will be leaving as of Oct.1. DCPS Chief of Schools John Davis will take over as interim superintendent October, and a nationwide search will be conducted for a replacement. Many thanks to Chancellor Henderson for her hard work and long tenure, and the best of luck to her as she moves on!
My years as a DCPS parent began in 2000, when our first child entered Janney. I think I have lived through five superintendents/chancellors. What a ride it’s been–and, what a great time to take stock. Mayor Bowser has told the Washington Post that “part of searching for a new chancellor will be taking the pulse of the community, getting feedback from stakeholders and moving forward.” A great first step!
Here are 3 issues that I hope the mayor will put front and center as she plans a process and chooses a new chancellor.

1. The lagging achievement of our students with the greatest needs. It is well-known that DC’s average NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) test scores have gone up. But this high average growth masks stagnant or very slow progress among our city’s most impoverished and lowest achieving students. A study of DC test scores by DC Action for Children shows that among our lowest-income students, 3rd grade reading scores actually dipped from 2007-2014.
Why? Did top scores go up because the student population now includes more affluent students who statistically tend to score better? Are some reforms having a different impact on students with the greatest academic needs? We need to understand what’s happening, so we can address the enormous achievement gap. Which brings me to:

2. Our urgent need to know much more about what is and isn’t working—and why. DC has launched some of the nation’s most far-reaching, attention-getting education reforms. But have they worked? Or, as is often the case in education, did they work in some places for some kids but not in or for others? Why? What can we do to elicit more widespread success?This is the right moment to pursue these questions—and to do so in a way that doesn’t prejudge the answers. Recently I was on a panel with Anthony Bryk, the highly-regarded founder of the Chicago Consortium on School Reform, an independent research group that has partnered for two decades with the Chicago Public Schools.
One of his key principles for successful school research: When establishing research questions, include the people who are absolutely sure the reform will succeed and those who are sure it will fail. That way, you don’t easily fall prey to finding the answers you want, and your findings have greater credibility, even among the skeptics. We have so much to learn in this city–and, so many efforts to learn from. We need more and better data (the new city budget includes an investment in this)—and a commitment to independent research like that modeled by CCSR. (For more on this, see my testimony before the City Council’s Committee of the Whole and my op-ed in the Washington Post.)

3. Engaging, respecting, and responding to the needs and views of local school communities. In my years as a DCPS parent and even more in the year and a half since I’ve been elected, I’ve seen DCPS become increasingly top-down and insular. New programs have been mandated, existing programs eliminated, and school budgets cut at the last minute–in ways that have left school communities, including parent, teachers, students and even principals, with no opportunity to weigh in or thoughtfully consider alternatives. I hear growing reluctance in school communities to invest in thoughtful, creative planning, as the best laid plans can be wiped out by a new mandate or unforeseen budget cut from on-high. This isn’t healthy. Good ideas don’t emerge from insular cultures. We need a better balance between encouraging, engaging and respecting the views and needs of school communities; and the genuine need for coherent district-level programming and planning.

Apply for the SBOE’s Student Advisory Committee

The State Board of Education is looking for new student voices to help influence our work. Click here to find out what it’s like to serve as a student rep on the SBOE and more about the application process online.

Wilson, Ellington Win Metro-wide Cappie Awards!
Duke Ellington High School was awarded the Cappie for best high school play this year and Wilson High School’s Hair (pictured) won best musical. Congratulations to all! Schools from all over the area compete. Ellington and Wilson were DC’s only competitors, and both won top awards!!!

How should DC judge school quality? Weigh in!
DC will be revising how it judges school quality, the support it provides weak schools, and the information that must be reported each year. Have your say with this online survey.

Next Public Meeting of the the SBOE: 5:30 pm. 441 4th Street, NW. Old Council Chambers

Call the Ombudsman…
If you believe that your schools is not providing adequate services to your child, and you have been unable to resolve the issue on your own with school faculty or administration, consider reaching out to the State Board of Education’s Ombudsman at ombudsman@dc.gov Also: @DC_Ombuds.

Let me know your thoughts on this and your priorities. ruth4schools@yahoo.com

Happy Summer!!!!!

Should students be able to test out of all courses? (no!)

February Newsletter:

**Should hs students be able to test out of any course?
–Citywide Task Force calls for letting students test out of foreign language and math courses, very defined, finite courses
      —But State Ed Agency proposes broad regulation that could allow testing out of any course
      —Big concerns that this will undercut course offerings
**Support TAG increase
**Vote on DCPS academic calendar

Add your Comments at the bottom


Update on Testing Out:

I reported last month that a citywide education Task Force (that I served on) had reached consensus on new ways for high school students to earn credit, including a proposal to allow high school students to test out of math and foreign language requirements. For a summary, see my January newsletter) The thinking–which I agree with–is that these subjects/courses are very sequential, defined, and finite. If you’ve mastered Spanish I or Algebra 2, there’s no need to take these courses in order to graduate! We don’t want to subject kids to boring, redundant coursework.
     But the Task Force did not recommend a testing-out option in other subjects, like U.S. History and World Literature, in which the subject matter is not finite or sequential.
I agree. These course are not “finite” in the way that Algebra 2 is. If a student arrives at high school ready to “test out” of U.S. history, the school should offer a higher level U.S. history course–perhaps an Honors or AP course. It’s hard to imagine a high school student showing up at an academic private school and being told that they already know so much U.S. History that there’s no need to learn more. I don’t think we should ask less of our public schools.
      Unfortunately, the state education agency (OSSE) has rejected the Task Force recommendation and wants full authority to let high schoolers test out of any class. OSSE has proposed a very broad regulation that would provide it with the right to allow testing-out in any high school course, at its discretion (although there is a promise not to do it immediately).
      But testing out sends the wrong message to teens–and undercuts new efforts to expand advanced course options across the city. As parents of teens know, we’re often trying to persuade our kids that they really don’t already know everything. It’s not helpful for the school system to say that they know all that’s worth a high schooler knowing!
      Plus, DC is now taking more seriously its obligation to offer courses that meet the needs of all students. This school year, for the first time, DCPS is requiring all high schools to offer a minimum number of AP courses. The Dual Enrollment program that has enabled students at Walls to attend classes and get college credit at partner college GWU is also available to students at Banneker and McKinley (partnering with Howard), KIPP (Trinity), and is further expanding–as is the HISCIP program that allows students at Wilson and elsewhere the ability to attend and get credit for classes at colleges such as AU.
These programs take resources and commitment. When resources are scarce, will schools find themselves choosing–or under pressure–to let students test out, instead of offering Honors, AP, and other advanced classes and programs?
OSSE has offered no educational rationale for its proposal. When asked to explain the purpose at a State Board meeting, the response was that OSSE might want this authority in the future and getting it now, as part of a broader package, would save time later. If there is a rationale, I’m all ears. Meanwhile, we don’t even know how basic or advanced the test might be–or what impact it could have, even unintentionally, on DC’s new course offerings and advanced course offerings at all schools.
      This is not a good way to make public policy. A big change like this deserves to be the subject of a full airing–with a full discussion of expected benefits and possible consequences–not just popped on us all as an undiscussed regulation.
       I’m eager to hear your views on this: ruth4schools@yahoo.com. If you would like to file formal comments with OSSE by February 2 , click here: http://www.dcregs.dc.gov/Gateway/NoticeHome.aspx?noticeid=5833888 . This site also displays the proposed regulations.

Support DC TAG increase
As reported in the last issue, the RAISE DC TAG team had a great success, winning $40 million in federal funding for DC’s TAG program. TAG, the Tuition Assistance Grant, provides DC residents with a $10,000 annual subsidy for their child’s tuition to any public college/university. The purpose was to provide to DC students the same low-cost access to a comprehensive, public land-grant college/university that residents of every state have. As helpful as the grant is, it has not increased since it was first enacted, a time when tuitions weren’t nearly as high as they now are. RAISE DC TAG is working to increase the amount of the grant.
As part of its campaign to show Congress how much support there is, it’s asking everyone to write/email your council member and ask them to support Jack Evans’ resolution introduced last summer…. “to expand the D.C. Tuition Assistance Grant program to fund the entire difference between in-state and out-of-state tuition for DC students at four-year public colleges and universities throughout the US, Guam and Puerto Rico.”
To get on Raise DC TAG’s list, write them at: raise.dc.tag@hotmail.com

Vote on the DCPS Academic Calendar
DCPS is still accepting survey responses. Go to: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1fx-D-Sv5PjGWKg4GBLw6ByaCqAqjMud8W_S5LfkvrzY/viewform?c=0&w=1

Enjoy your holiday weekend. As always, feel free to email me with your comments and concerns. ruth4schools@yahoo.com

Ruth
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January 12 Newsletter

January 12 Newsletter! Happy New Year to all!

To get on my regular newsletter list, email me ruth4schools@yahoo.com. @ruth4schools, ruth4schools.com, ruth4schools@yahoo.com

School News:-PARCC scores; TAG grants funded; DCPS budget process starts

Events: “Rosenwald Schools” Film/; Ward3-Wilson Feeder Education Network; Cross-Sector Task Force on Collaboration; City Council Hearing on proposed change to truancy; Special Ed discussion?

State Board of Ed Updates: State Diploma moves forward, but with big problem; New rules will allow high school students to test out of foreign language and math courses, and more.

School News
Parcc Scores—

**PARCC scores for elementary/middle school students are here. Ward 3 scores strong.
PARCC scores went home in December. As you review your child’s report, keep in mind that these are “baseline” scores. You can’t use them to determine whether your child’s achievement status has gone up or down. You can also view scores broken down by various demographic groups and grade in this OSSE slide deck http://osse.dc.gov/sites/default/files/dc/sites/osse/publication/attachments/OSSE%20PARCC%203-8%20ReleasePresentation_finalv14.pdf .
Across Ward 3, schools had large numbers of students scoring at the 4/5 threshold. A score of 4 is defined as being the threshold at which a student will probably succeed in his/her first year of college without remedial support.

**Citywide scores show relatively few students on- track for college success. Racial/economic gaps are huge.
But, citywide, just 24% of grade 3-8 students scored at a level 4 or above in English Language Art and 25% in math.. An additional 24% in ELA and 26% in math scored at a 3, defined as “approaching” expectations.
This leaves a majority of city students scoring 1’s and 2’s, meaning they are, after many years of major education reform, way, way off-track for ultimately entering college, including community colleges, which are the gateway to most careers that don’t require a 4 year or professional degree.
The racial gaps are huge: 17% of black students, 21% of Hispanic students, and 79% of white student reached the 4/5 level. Insofar as results can be disaggregated by income, 11% of at-risk and 14% of economically disadvantaged students reached the 4/5 threshold. Racial and income gaps exist in Ward 3 schools as well.
Colbert King accurately and passionately describes the results as “painful.”

**Good news about rising average scores in DCPS has obscured the declining, stagnant, slow-rising scores among our lowest achievers.
DC’s average scores on NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress)–widely regarded as the gold standard for tracking student achievement–have risen in recent years, often more than in other cities, generating lots of laudatory media attention. But the gains (especially in reading; math has been better) have been isolated. Specifically, the lowest achieving 25% of DCPS 4th graders went down in reading every year since 2009, until this last year. Finally, scores jumped this year, with this group of students now scoring 8 points higher than in 2009—the equivalent of 1.25 points per year. In comparison, the scores among the highest achieving quarter of students increased every year—rising 16 points since 2009, an average of 2.7 points per year. Among the bottom 10%, 4th grade reading scores have risen 4 points since 2009. In comparison, the top 10th scorers rose from 255 to 270—15 points, in the same period.
8th grade reading is worse: The bottom 25% of 8th graders scored 214 in 2009 and rose to 216 in 2015. In contrast, among the top quarter of 8th graders, scores rose from 267 to 273 in those years: 2 points v. 6 points.
Let’s hope the recent jumps reflect something new and enduring.

TAG GRANTS get record funding! Congratulations to the TAG TEAM!
Congress’s omnibus appropriations bill, passed in December, includes a record $40 million for DC’s Tuition Assistance Grant Program (DCTAG). The program provides DC families with tuition grants of $10,000 per year for students who attend public colleges anywhere in the country (and smaller grants for those who attend DC’s private colleges). This is a huge victory, won with lots of hard work by Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton and the Raise DC TAG Committee. This energetic, effective group is led by DC residents Nora Burke, Heather Keith, Windsor Freemyer and Jennifer Felten. To get on their email list, write raise.dc.tag@hotmail.com. You can also follow them on Facebook (Raise DC TAG) and on twitter @RaiseDCTag.

DCPS budget process gets started
DCPS (DC Public Schools) is trying to launch the budget process earlier than in the past. This should create more opportunity for school communities and residents citywide to understand and influence the budget. On Jan 27, the DCPS management team is scheduled to approve final proposed school allocations; and on Feb 12, the allocations will be released to schools. Principals will have until March 7 to submit their budgets and any appeals. This allows for 3 weeks, instead of the days provided last year, for budget discussions. DCPS will submit its final budget to the mayor on March 18. The mayor will adjust as see she fits and submit it as part of the budget that she submits to the City Council on From there, it goes to the City Council as part of the Mayor’s budget, where there will be hearings, negotiation, and eventually the adoption of a final budget. See timeline here.

State Board of Education News

Coming soon: New rules on high school credit flexibility
The Board established a citywide Task Force, chaired by Ward1 SBOE member Laura Wilson-Phelan, to consider how high schools could be provided greater flexibility to award course credit. The Task Force was interested in both promoting the creativity that this innovation could enable and in assuring that the flexibility doesn’t further exacerbate the different levels of academic quality and rigor that currently exist across high schools. The Task Force Report was adopted by the State Board in December, opening the door for OSSE to develop new regulations to implement the main points of the report. Regs will likely be voted on in February. Key proposals are:

1. Students can get foreign language and math credit by passing an approved test. This resolves an issue that has been raised with me a number of times. The thinking is that in both foreign language and math, the course content is finite and well-defined. If a student has mastered the material and would benefit from being in a more advanced class, this proposal will allow that.

2. Schools can apply for a waiver of the current Carnegie unit rule, which defines a high school credit as being earned upon passing a 120-hour course (more for science lab courses). The goal is to give schools freedom to impart course material in different ways—for example, through a course that simultaneously taught math and science or that made use of internships or other experiences. According to the Board/Task Force report, the waiver would require students to learn the material set forth in DC standards, schools would have to report their achievement, and OSSE would evaluate the results of the waiver.

3. Students would no longer be required to take Algebra 1 in 9th grade. This change would allow high schools to bring students to an Algebra 1 readiness level, before enrolling them in Algebra 1. Now schools have no choice but to enroll all freshmen in algebra 1, regardless of a student’s preparation.

State Diploma moves forward; 3 (including me) vote against awarding diploma for recipients of unvalidated assessment
The Board unanimously supports awarding a new State Diploma to recipients of GED certificates. Publicly available research establishes that the newly upgraded GED exam is rigorous. In fact, a substantial minority of current high school students would be unable to pass the GED. Nonetheless, GED recipients are stigmatized in the job market. We hope that awarding a diploma to GED recipients will help them move forward in employment and further education.
But the Board was also asked by OSSE to support awarding diplomas for a second certificate, the NEDP (National External Diploma Project). In contrast to the research available on the GED, there does not appear to be any independent research validating that this certification reflects high school-graduation level knowledge and skills. Three board members (including me!) voted (unsuccessfully) to strip the NEDP from the resolution. All board members voted to move the issue forward. Since then, the OSSE superintendent agreed at the January 6 SBOE meeting to ask experts on her staff to identify and review the research on this assessment. See this article from the Washington Post on the issue and this post from Eduphile on the broader problem of defining what a diploma should reflect.

Congress (finally!) reauthorizes the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka NCLB), the main federal law addressing k-12 education
As a result, many decisions that have been the province of the federal government for roughly 15 years will now become the responsibility of the state, or in our case, the city. Many of these decisions will have to be decided collaboratively between the city administration and the elected State Board of Education. Among the key questions the Board will have to consider are: How will school success be judged; and what interventions should be put into place when a school is not adequately educating its students. Send me your ideas. I’ll keep you posted.
Events/Calendar

“Rosenwald Schools” film is back!
Tuesday, January 19, 7:30 pm
DCJCC– 1529 16th Street NW
Film Critic Roger Ebert says you’ll leave “gobsmacked” by this story of “the white man prominently framed on the wall of numerous black schools located throughout the American South.” His story “turns out to be the thread that unravels a historical yarn for the ages. Most viewers will likely have little-to-no familiarity with the events recounted in this documentary.”
Produced by Ward 3 filmmaker Aviva Kempner, this fabulous documentary is back for two more showing after packed shows last year at the Avalon and around the country. The screening will be followed by comments from Kempner and Wade Henderson, the head of the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights.

Ward 3-Wilson Feeder Education Network.
January 27, 7pm, Tenley-Friendship Library
This new organization brings together parents, teachers, and community members to discuss and support our ward 3 schools and the students who attend them. The agenda for this meeting includes a discussion on Ellington High School with Matthew Frumin and a chance to discuss and provide feedback on the PARCC test with me! The feedback will feed into upcoming State Board discussions about PARCC and DC’s accountability system. The alliance is chaired by Tricia Braun and Brian Doyle, parents at, respectively, Key and Hearst. Find them @w3EdNet and facebook.com/w3EdNet
Focus Group on Collaboration between Charter and DCPS sectors
February 25, 7 pm, Janney Elementary School
The Deputy Mayor’s Task Force is holding focus groups across the city. The information above is for the focus group being held in Ward 3. For other times/places, see the link below. There is limited space, so if you want to attend, you must sign up in advance at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/CSCTF-focusgroups.

Education Committee hearing on new truancy rules
January 21, Hearing Room 500, John A. Wilson building
Currently, DC schools operate under the 80/20 rule; if you’re not present for 20% of the day, you’re marked absent. Enough absences, and you are referred to Social Services. Especially as implemented, this rule has wreaked havoc, burdening schools with extra paperwork, and leaving social service agencies overwhelmed with the truly needy cases competing for attention. But a proposed new law goes way too far the other way, possibly meaning that you are not truant even if you show up for just 15 minutes! That leaves a lot of space for finding a golden mean. A hearing is scheduled for Jan 21. To testify, telephone the Committee of the Whole, at (202) 7248196, or e-mail Renee Johnson, Legislative Assistant, at rjohnson@dccouncil.us with name, address, telephone number, and organizational affiliation, if any, by the close of business Thursday, June 20, 2013
Discussion on special education issues with the State Board of Education’s Ombudsman?
I hear more about problems with special education than abut anything else. I recently attended a session at which the SBOE’s Ombudsman and Student Advocate conducted a session for parents about the special education referral process and services and the rights of parents and students. it was also a great opportunity for parents to explain the obstacles and hurdles they’re finding.
Please email me ruth4schools@yahoo.com if you would like me to schedule such a session in Ward 3.
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october newsletter

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October Newsletter
What do you want in your kids’ school lunches? Tell DCPS.

As DCPS gets ready to put out a request for proposal for a new school lunch vendor, it’s inviting input. Make your views known by completing a survey at engagedcps.org.

DC announces results from PARCC high school assessments. Scores are a wake-up call.

The results of the PARCC test for high school students (mainly 10th-graders) yesterday were announced yesterday. The scores show that 25% of the city’s high school students have met or exceeded expectations in English Language Arts (“met”=score of 4; “exceeded” =score of 5) and 10% have met or exceeded expectations in math. Another 17% in ELA and 24% in math “approached expectations.”
The ELA scores were much higher at School without Walls (97%); Banneker (74%); Wilson (50% met or exceeded); Ellington (50%); and McKinley (30%).
The scores are a reminder of how incredibly far we have to go to strengthen education across the city. But: It’s important to know that these scores, however low they might be, are not comparable to scores on DC’s previous test, the DC-CAS.

–PARCC scores measure “college-career readiness,” which DC-CAS never did.
Before PARCC, each state and DC wrote its own test and set its own “proficiency” threshold. And, in many cases, states set the thresholds at very low levels, resulting in (surprise!!) very high pass rates that were then hailed by education and political leaders. But, these same students often had to take remedial courses when they went off to college and career training programs, as their “proficient” reading and math levels were significantly below the minimums needed for post-secondary success. Many commentators have called this the Honesty Gap, arguing that, in effect, states weren’t being honest about what their students had achieved.

–With PARCC, the “meets expectations” level was defined in consultation with post-secondary institutions.

Specifically, the “meets expectations” level should reflect a roughly 75% chance that students will earn at least C’s in entry-level post-secondary courses.
As I reported in my last newsletter, I attended the PARCC standard-setting meeting for 7/8th grade last summer. I was very impressed with the professionalism and expertise with which the levels were set. PARCC will be conducting research to further determine if the thresholds ar set in the right place. Meanwhile, I feel pretty comfortable that with PARCC, students who “meets expectations” are on-track to success in their post-secondary schooling, whether college or career preparation.

–PARCC scores do not tell us whether achievement has gone up or down.
In short: if parents, kids, teachers, or others are distressed by any low scores, please keep this in mind: Whether low or not, these scores do not tell us whether DC achievement has gone up or down. They do not tell us whether the achievement of any given student has gone up or down. They do not tell us that teachers or schools have done a better or worse job. But, these scores do give both parents and policymakers a more accurate picture of whether students are on track for college.

–PARCC Scores for grades 3-8 will be released in November. Students will get score reports in their backpacks in December.
Citywide scores for grades 3-8 will be announced in November. Individual student scores will be sent home in December. Also in December, principals will get score reports for their schools, and teachers will get score reports for their current students and for the students that they taught the previous year. In the future, PARCC scores will be reported soon after the test is taken.

–National reading/math scores disappointing. DC improvement defies averages!

Lots of data this week! In addition to the PARCC scores, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), considered the “gold-standard” in tracking student achievement, reported its biennial reading and math scores.
According to this report, national average scores in both subjects in both 4th and 8th grades were down or stagnant, which hasn’t been true in many years. But DC defied the national trend, with 4th grade scores rising citywide in both reading (7) and math (3), with the increases in DCPS being even a point higher! With these gains, DC scores are inching up closer and closer to the national average. Data hounds can see more here.

–The continuing problem of over-testing and curriculum narrowing gets national attention– and possibly federal support for a reduction.

The PARCC test should have one purpose—to provide an honest picture of student achievement to stakeholders. As such, it is meant to be a once-a-year test. Starting next spring, the test will require less than ten hours of each student’s time.

But schools and school districts across the country for various reasons have mandated many additional tests—interim tests, unit tests, benchmark tests, and more. When I was running for the DC State School Board it was one of the issues that I heard the most about. I continue to get a steady stream of complaints from parents and teachers.

Yesterday the Council of Great City Schools (which represents the big-city school districts) issued a report documenting the national testing explosion. It found that the average student in the US now takes 112 standardized tests during her k-12 career. Totally crazy!!!!!
The report has caught the attention of the Obama administration, which has responded with a promise that the federal Education Department will help school districts and state education departments inventory and reform their testing programs.

Last spring, the DC State Board of Education (in its approval of a waiver of the No Child Left Behind Act) asked DC’s state superintendent to conduct an audit of student testing and curriculum narrowing. It looks like now, if the city chose to conduct such a study, we could get federal support for such an effort!

State Diploma for GED discussed by State Board. Employers and Educators Testify. Vote in 1 month.

Should recipients of the GED and NEDP (National External Diploma Program) high school equivalency certificates receive a DC State Diploma? The State Board heard testimony on this in July and again in October. We have now heard formal testimony from employers, providers of GED preparation (mainly adult charter schools), and representatives of DC’s secondary school stakeholders. In addition, I have visited several schools, including Academy of Hope Charter, Next Step Charter, and Ballou Stay that prepare students for high school equivalency certificates.

I have discovered that DC has one of the liveliest adult education sectors in the country. The schools that I visited are educating an incredible variety of adults—including immigrants who were never educated in US schools and adults who dropped out decades ago for reasons as diverse as needing to work, drugs, family issues, failing school, etc. –and providing them with a needed second chance to get an education and decent, stable employment. These schools also provide a second chance for younger individuals who more recently left high schools because it didn’t provide what they needed. I think especially of one young person who testified that she had left high school because she was bullied.

The students who ultimately earn their GED certificates in these programs will have, according to these school leaders, typically spent 18 months or more in preparation. In some cases, these adults are attending school on a daily basis; in other cases, it’s at night, over a longer period, as they juggle schools, jobs, kids, and the rest of life.

The newly re-normed GED test is rigorous
Last year, the GED revised and re-normed its test (as it periodically does). This is not an easy test: Its passing threshold is set at the point at which roughly 40% of current high school graduates would not pass it. And, yet, according to testimony, those who earn the certificate still believe that they are stigmatized in the job market. They have testified that with a high school diploma in hand along with their certificate, they believe that stigmatization would be much reduced. Further, they argued that regardless of whether employers looked more kindly on their applications, having a diploma would increase their own self-esteem and self-confidence with its own positive results.
(The State Board has not yet received norming or grade-level information on the NEDP or other information that rigorously compares the NEDP to DC state standards.)

Providing high school diplomas to adult students who have earned a GED seems wholly appropriate and deserved. It is a needed, deserved second chance. To help assure that recipients are not stigmatized by employers, the city should run a serious PR campaign informing employers of the GED’s rigor.

But let’s not incentivize current students and teens to drop out of high school!
I’m concerned, though, with one unintended consequence of this otherwise important policy change: What will the effect be on current high school students and teens, especially those who are marginally connected to high school, possibly on the cusp of dropping out. If they know they can walk out of high school the day they turn 18, take a GED exam, and get a diploma… might that tilt them towards dropping out?

The evidence suggests it could. A 2004 survey of young people who had recently dropped out conducted by the very respected National Educational Longitudinal Study, found that 40.5% of high school dropouts said one of their reasons (they could give multiple reasons) for leaving school was that they “thought it would be easier to get a GED.”

This was the second most frequently given reason. The top reason was “missed too many school days”—43.5%; in contrast, for comparison, 15.5% said that a reason was “Had to care for a member of family.”
Now, of course, the GED probably didn’t turn out to be as easy as these students thought. The research doesn’t tell us how many of them ended up as GED recipients–or dropouts with no certificate. My guess is a fair number ended up with neither.

Also, Nobel-award winning economist James Heckman–whose research documenting the huge pay-off of investments in early childhood education has fueled large investments in early childhood education (including here in DC)–has conducted research in this area. His research suggests that changes in the GED have a substantial effect on graduation rates. (It’s dense, but if you’re interested, here’s his paper.) Earlier this month, the city was rightly crowing about having increased the city’s grad rate by 4 points over several years! It would be terrible to thoughtlessly put into a place a policy that might undo these hard-won gains!

Lets have our cake and eat it too! Let’s add “guard rails”
I favor awarding a state diploma to adults who earn GED’s. But as we drop barriers to a diploma for adults, I would like the policy to build in “guard rails” that minimize the likelihood that it could lead to an increase in dropouts.
For example:

Raise the minimum age for earning a diploma so that you can’t walk out of school as soon as you turn 18 to take the GED and earn a diploma;
Don’t allow the city or schools to count GED recipients in their graduation statistics (Currently federal rules prevent this but, as noted in this Washington Post op-ed, this rule could be repealed along with other changes to the federal No Child Left Behind law.);
If the GED (a profit-making company that may be under pressure to make the test easier to pass) lowers its passing standard, DC shouldn’t award diplomas for these lower scores; according to Heckman’s research, high school grad rates seem to go down when passing the GED gets easier.
Let’s closely track the results of the policy, assuring ourselves that it’s leading to greater success for recipients of the state diplomas AND not incentivizing students to leave school. Given the high stakes, we should take a look sooner rather than later, maybe after two years. If the results are problematic, the policy should undergo an immediate review.
Wilson’s budget battle: In the end, the per-student budget isn’t reduced as expected…. Because 70+ out-of bounds students were dis-enrolled.

For those of you who have followed this, you know that Wilson’s enrollment was projected to substantially increase this fall, and an inadequate DCPS-proposed budget for the school would have left the school with a 10% per student funding decrease. Ultimately, after much community activism, a budget increase from Councilman David Grosso’s education committee, and great work by Councilwoman Mary Cheh and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, DCPS restored close to 50% of the cut funds, the amount the community had asked for.

All the while, DCPS claimed that in the end, Wilson wouldn’t really suffer from a per-student cut because, according to DCPS, Wilson’s enrollment wouldn’t really go up by the amount projected. In fact, DCPS used an existing rule to reduce Wilson’s enrollment by pushing out out-of-bounds students with substantial absences. Sadly, DCPS refused to reenroll at Wilson some 70 students who live out of Wilson’s geographic boundaries but who (largely) have attended Wilson feeder schools and gone to school with feeder school students since elementary school.

I think schools probably should have greater discretion to un-enroll students who are continually disruptive or absent (as charter schools are more able to do) if other efforts to support them fail, in order to maintain a strong learning environment for all students. But, rules have to be applied equally to all students.

A policy in which some students (based on zip code) can be expelled for certain behaviors and other students can do what they want is terribly unfair and an entirely wrong message to send to all of our students.

Wilson is on a trajectory to get more crowded. BUT DCPS needs to address Wilson’s overcrowding deliberately and thoughtfully–not with what seem to be unfair, ad hoc policies.

That’s all for now.
Happy Halloween!