The recently published 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA) has received a great deal of attention, especially in regards to the District of Columbia Public Schools. Although leading education reform advocates express cautious optimism, they claim the results as “evidence” that the 2008 education reforms in D.C., vis-à-vis former DCPS Chancellor Michelle Rhee, were, not only necessary, but also valid. Moreover, Mayor Gray has gone as far as to state that these results prove a need to “stay the course.” Is the Mayor correct? Do these gains prove a need to “stay the course,” or, as far as Mayor Gray’s concerned, to re-elect his administration? Let’s examine the data beyond the first glance, and analyze the results a bit further.
In order to analyze the data beyond the first glance, I’ve separated DCPS’ 4th and 8th grade students’ performance into two categories: 1) scores recorded between 2003 through 2007, and 2) scores recorded between 2009 through 2013. Using the data available on this website, I simply calculated the percent change (growth rate) between the years mentioned above. The main purpose of separating the overall trend into two categories is to analyze the growth rate of student performance, before and after the Chancellorship of Michelle Rhee. Given the political season in D.C., i.e. 2014 mayoral election, the current administration has taken credit for D.C.’s public school students’ performance on standardized tests. But, is he correct in his assertion? Should we stay the course in D.C.?
4th Grade Trends
4th Grade Growth Rate
#1: Overall average scale score for DCPS 4th graders
Between 2003 and 2007, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (4.39%), and reading (4.79%).
Between 2009 and 2013, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (4.09%) and reading (1.93%).
#2: Overall average scale score for DCPS 4th grade Black students
Between 2003 and 2007, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (3.47%) and reading (4.35%).
Between 2009 and 2013, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (2.83%), but decreased in reading (-1.54%).
#3: Overall average scale score for DCPS 4th grade Hispanic students
Between 2003 and 2007, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (7.32%) and reading (4.81%).
Between 2009 and 2013, the average scale scores decreased in mathematics (-0.44%), but increased in reading (1.93%).
#4: Overall average scale score for DCPS 4th grade White students
Between 2003 and 2007, the average scale scores remained the same in mathematics (0.00%), but increased in reading (1.57%).
Between 2009 and 2013, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (2.59%) and reading (1.17%).
Chancellor Henderson is correct when she said, “the gains are true gains,” but the rate of growth matters as well. For DCPS 4th graders, the rate of growth has slowed down across the board, with one exception: 4th grade White students in mathematics. Again, growth is a positive step, but the slowdown in growth rates should raise questions, and not proclamations of success. The negative growth rate, particularly after the 2008 reforms, for Black students in reading (-1.54%) and Hispanics in math (-0.44%) is a concern. Moreover, the declining trend for 4th grade Black students in reading needs immediate intervention.
8th Grade Scale Score Trends
8th Grade Growth Rate
#1: Overall average scale score for DCPS 8th graders
Between 2003 and 2007, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (2.06%) and reading (0.84%).
Between 2009 and 2013, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (3.59%) and reading (2.08%).
#2: Overall average scale score for DCPS 8th grade Black students
Between 2003 and 2007, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (2.08%) and reading (0.84%).
Between 2009 and 2013, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (3.69%) and reading (0.85%).
#3: Overall average scale score for DCPS 8th grade Hispanic students
Between 2003 and 2007, the average scale scores increased in mathematics (2.03%) and reading (3.75%).
Between 2009 and 2013, the average scale scores decreased in mathematics (-0.38%) and reading (-0.80%).
#4: Overall average scale score for DCPS 8th grade White students
Data not available for the select ranges
At first glance, the growth rate for 8th grade is higher, post-2008 education reforms. Again, student growth and learning is a positive step in the right direction, but let’s examine the growth for DCPS 8th graders. The higher growth rate, for Black students, in math (3.69%) is worth celebrating. In fact, I genuinely hope this upward trend continues. That said, I have serious concerns about the flat growth rate for 8th grade Black students in reading, both before and after the reforms. Conversely, the negative growth rate, particularly post-2008 reforms, for Hispanic students in math (-0.38%) and reading (-0.80%) is a concerning trend. Yes, 8th grade Hispanic students rebounded in math and reading between 2011 and 2013, but the overall average in reading hasn’t surpassed the average recorded in 2007, or pre-2008 reforms..
The Million-Dollar Question: What role does gentrification play?
Are the post-2008 reforms working, or are the scores indicative of DC’s demographic changes…or both? There’s no denying that DCPS’ student demographics, i.e. race/ethnicity, has, and is, changing dramatically. But, is it fair to bring demographics into the education reform discussion?
DCPS Student Population
The increase in White students is the most dramatic, relative to pre-2008 education reforms. In 2013, White student population enrolled in DCPS has more than doubled since 2007. Interestingly, the Hispanic student population has doubled, as well. Unfortunately, since 2008, the percentage of Black students has declined, dramatically.
Let’s be crystal clear: More White students, or less Black students, doesn’t mean scores trend upwards or downwards. Scores aren’t based on race or ethnicity. With that said, it’s the economic composition of students within each class that matters. Anyone familiar with D.C. knows that Ward 3 is the most affluent ward in the District, which consists largely of White households. Thus, it’s fair to infer that the population increase in White, affluent households is influencing the rise in student performance. Conversely, the cost of living in D.C. is on the rise, thus the low-income African-American flight also influences the overall test scores, because poverty has a proven, direct correlation to student performance. So, are the 2008 education reforms, alone, the cause of student growth on standardized tests? Or, should gentrification receive the credit? Or, is it a little of both?
Gentrification: Median Household Income
Here’s an example of how D.C. has changed, in terms of the economic composition of household, during the same overall time period (2003 – 2013).
The highest increase in median household income belongs to D.C. Wards 1, 2, 5, and 6. Conversely, the lowest increase in median household income belongs to Wards 7 and 8. In fact, Ward 8 has increased in the number of low-income households. Wards 1, 2, and 6, according to this illustration, have undergone the most dramatic increases in median household income. But, what does this look like in terms of DCPS? Well, let’s examine the 40 lowest performing schools within the District.
40 Lowest Performing Schools
According to DCPS’ website, here’s a list of the lowest 40 performing schools, albeit tradition or education campuses, throughout the public school system.
The heaviest concentration of low performing schools are in Wards 7 and 8, which, also, are the most economically disadvantaged wards. Strikingly, the amount of low performing elementary schools is overwhelmingly located within these two wards. This fact should cause great concern for establishing school “feeder patterns.” For example, there are only three traditional, public middle schools in Ward 8. All three middle schools are on the list of lowest performing schools. Does this mean that all three middle schools have incompetent, or low qualified teachers? No! A more appropriate reason is the fact that almost every traditional elementary school, which “feeds” into one of the three middle schools, is also on the list. In fact, this “feeder pattern” effect doesn’t stop at the middle school level. Ward 8 has two traditional public high schools, which – surprise, surprise – are also on the list of lowest performing schools. Do you see a pattern? The ward with the lowest median household income is also the ward with the most schools listed on the 40 lowest performing schools. Given these facts, how, specifically, has the 2008 education reforms helped traditional public schools in Wards 7 and 8?
So, TUDA victor go the spoils?
By and large, yes the 2008 education reform victors do receive credit for student growth, albeit earned or misplaced. Elections have consequences, and former D.C. Mayor Fenty won the election largely on an education reform platform. Interestingly, Mayor Gray won his election, largely campaigning on education reform issues, and by criticizing Fenty’s administration, vis-à-vis the 2008 education reforms. Enter the 2014 D.C. Mayoral Race. Now, Mayor Gray is on the offensive on education reform policies. Undoubtedly, the TUDA report provides him ammunition to use during this mayoral campaigning season. In fact, he’s wasted little to no time proclaiming success, and urging D.C.’s residents to “stay the course,” which, of course, translate to “please re-elect my administration.” If Mayor Gray is re-elected, then, yes, TUDA victor go the spoils, indeed.
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