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The Numbers Say it All

August 11, 2009

Author: Terri Lee Freeman

A few weeks back, DC Mayor Adrian Fenty, Chancellor Michelle Rhee and Deputy Mayor Victor Reinoso proudly announced the preliminary results of the District of Columbia Comprehensive Assessment System (DC CAS). What was highlighted in the press release was the steady progress that DC Public Schools’ elementary and secondary students have shown during the past two years.

Specifically, scores for elementary students proficient in reading improved some 11% since 2007, and their scores for math proficiency increased by 20% during the same time period. And the news for secondary students was also positive, with proficiency rates in reading and math up 11% and 13%, respectively, over the two years.

By all accounts we have to “give props” to our young people for making these gains, as well as the teachers, principals and administrators who helped lead the way.

While we welcome these gains, the numbers still aren’t good enough. Even with this significant improvement, there are more students in DCPS who are not proficient as compared to those doing grade-level work.

For students currently in elementary school, I believe there is real hope because 1) we have more time and 2) the community’s commitment to making sure our young people get a top-quality education continues to grow. But for students in secondary schools who are not achieving proficiency levels, my concern runs deep.

The numbers tell us that only 41% of secondary students are at proficiency (I translate that to mean grade-level) and only 40% demonstrate math proficiency. Which begs the question: what are the life prospects for these young people? Certainly some of the 59% will improve over the course of their high school careers, graduate and matriculate to some form of higher education or technical training. But others will go the way of statistics. We know that illiteracy kills potential and steals dreams. We also know that our prisons are filled with young men and young women who simply can’t read. In terms of the workplace, we know there is little that one can do to find sustainable-wage employment in this region and country without basic reading ability.

So what do we do? First we must all put the students first – less focus on adults and more focus on the customer — our children. We ask Mayor Fenty to maintain his commitment to providing a high-quality education to all students in the District of Columbia. We ask Chancellor Rhee to continue to focus on academic excellence and professional development as well as listen to and work with the nonprofit, for-profit and philanthropic sectors who want to provide useful support to the students. (Yep, the “village” concept!) We ask those parents who are involved to continue to be active and informed advocates for their children. And we urge parents who haven’t been active to take on their reasonable parental duties. The system can’t, won’t and shouldn’t parent your kids! Let the educators be the educators and ask teachers to continue their commitment to training these young minds, for there is no greater responsibility. Good teachers are always remembered and lauded by their students. We ask the school administrators to provide flexibility within structure. And we ask private funders to continue and even step up their support of parents, teachers, and students. But, most importantly, we expect students to be studious and excel to their full potential with our help. Failure is not an option!

If we do these things will we be assured that more children than not will be proficient in the basics – reading and math? I lean toward a resounding “yes”! But the numbers will say it all, and only time will tell.

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