A D.C. Breakthrough as Traditional Public School Students Post Gains on PARCC Test, Outperforming Charters

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Students in traditional D.C. public schools scored 6.4 percentage points better in reading and 3.5 percentage points better in math than they did last school year, outperforming the district’s charter schools, according to PARCC results released Thursday.

These gains are the largest since D.C. students began taking the exam in 2015, and they are greater than the increases posted by other states in the PARCC consortium. These improvements span schools and socioeconomic groups.

Now, 32 percent of students in traditional public schools in D.C. are on track in reading, and 27 percent are on track in math. Combined, traditional public and charter school students are now 31 percent proficient in reading and 27 percent proficient in math.

“DCPS students made unprecedented progress on the PARCC,” Chancellor Antwan Wilson said in a statement. “This improvement is a clear sign of student learning, our commitment to our young people, and our investment in the programs and curriculum that support the work.”

But there is still a large achievement gap to overcome. White students districtwide scored 82 percent proficient in reading and 76 percent proficient in math, compared with about one-fifth of black students and one-quarter of Latino students.

“Obviously, we still have a lot of work to do to make sure we are closing the achievement gap and that all students are thriving in school,” said DCPS Deputy Chief of Communications Michelle Lerner. “But we’re proud that we have these significant gains because it’s in every side of the city and it’s in every single grade and across every single subgroup.”

Last year, the district’s charter schools posted larger gains than its traditional public schools, but this year, D.C. charter schools saw less than half a percentage point in growth. Altogether, the traditional and charter schools improved 4 percentage points in reading and 2 percentage points in math. 

Lerner wouldn’t specifically comment on whether she thought competition from charter schools fueled the score increases in the traditional public schools. She credited factors like the district’s early adoption of Common Core standards and D.C.’s LEAP professional development program for teachers. “Professional development is quite wonky, but this is how you move the needle,” she said.

“Stunned that nobody is pointing out that [D.C. Public Schools] is now on pace w/ charter schools in math and outperforming in ELA on #PARCC,” tweeted Kaya Henderson, former chancellor of DC Public Schools. “Every time charters outpaced [D.C. Public Schools], it was highlighted at the press conference. #DCPS deserves its victory lap. #DCPSRising.”

Going forward, Lerner said D.C. will focus on improving attendance, reducing suspensions through restorative practices, and offering social-emotional support to continue reaching underperforming students. 

In the meantime, D.C. educators celebrated the news Thursday.

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