10 July 2008

Somewhere in Newark, Clifford Janey is smiling.

DCPS has released test scores indicating marked improvement on standardized tests this year. It's great news for a system so maligned that the citizens of DC have given up any sort of representative oversight over it. As expected, Chancellor Rhee and Fenty are trying to take credit for the gains, despite the fact that system-wide education reforms rarely take hold in less than ten months, which is roughly the time between Rhee's taking office and the students' taking the standardized tests. It didn't even bother Rhee that she'd hedged her bets on taking office, claiming that gains wouldn't be seen for three to five years:

D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee said the initial results demonstrate that the approach she used in her first year in office is working. Rhee said previously that she did not think test scores would receive a bump from her initiatives for a few years. [WP]

Well, it could be that scores are receiving a bump because she has introduced no academic initiatives: the curriculum in place -- and to a large extent the methodology -- is a product of Clifford Janey's reign as superintendent, which coincidentally just happens to have begun...umm, September 2004...oh, about 3.5 years before those standardized tests.

As superintendent, Clifford Janey ditched the old curricular standards and adopted some of the toughest in the nation (including the Massachusett's standards...and unlike Victor Reinoso, Janey openly admitted he was using those models); he replaced the old Stanford-9 test with the DC-CAS; and he laid it all out in a "Master Education Plan." That plan is still in place, and Reinoso hasn't had the chance yet to scribble out Janey's name and put his own on it. You can actually still get Janey's plan off the DCPS website.

As the Post article also notes, one possible cause for a jump in scores is that students are getting used to the new test:

In 2006, the number of schools achieving proficiency dropped, which officials and outside experts said then was an expected byproduct of administering the new, more difficult D.C. Comprehensive Assessment System (DC-CAS). It replaced the Stanford 9, which used multiple-choice questions and tested students on national standards.

Then-Superintendent Clifford B. Janey introduced the DC-CAS exam, which requires students to give short responses. It was part of an effort to upgrade instruction by aligning testing with new learning standards.

School system officials said yesterday that this year's gains resulted in part from programs that accustom students to the DC-CAS format.

As with most of life, test gains and losses are never cut and dry...you can't standardize life. So it's really distressing to see Chancellor Rhee pretending that her reforms -- which only a month ago she and Fenty were claiming were largely facilities related and had little to do with academics -- are the cause:

"We made every one of those decisions because we felt that this is what was needed to happen . . . so achievement can be maximized. I fully believe we will see the upward trajectory as long as we're making the hard decisions," Rhee said at a news conference at Plummer Elementary School in Southeast Washington, where reading scores jumped 17 percentage points and math by 15. In the 2007 academic year, the reading scores rose by two percentage points and math by six.

"I wasn't expecting to see such large gains early on," Rhee said. "It's a testament to what kids can do. I believe the children in the District of Columbia can achieve at high levels."

I don't know what's worse...the idea that she's trying to equate her "hard decisions" of closing schools and firing high-achieving principals with increased test scores, or her empty platitude about what kids can achieve. I challenge anyone out there to show me a school chief who doesn't throw out some bone about "believing the children can achieve at high levels."

OK, I do know what's worse: it's trying to take credit for results that surprised the hell out of you because you spent the entire length of your tenure so far trying to distance yourself from the test results...in other words, you truly believed scores would be stagnant or just plain lousy.

However, if your goal is simply to improve standardized test scores as opposed to improve the education of children, then you can get a boost from full-time test prep...

The best news of course is that scores have gone up; unfortunately, many of those responsible for such improvements have been fired by Fenty or Rhee.

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