Qualifying Chancellor Qualifications

In addition to this letter signed by every ward education council, asking the mayor to keep in mind important qualifications for the next DCPS chancellor, the Washington Teachers’ Union (WTU) recently put out a survey to members, and parents, asking for feedback on the importance (or lack thereof) of qualifications and experiences in/of a new chancellor.

This is important stuff.

The letter, for instance, lists five characteristics and qualifications of the next chancellor as vital to our by right school system:

–“Experience as a professional educator and administrator.”
–“Tenacity in advocating for current and future DCPS families.”
–“Commitment to healthy and productive relationships with principals, teachers, communities, parents and students.”
–“Management skills encompassing core school business functions.”
–“Demonstrated support for a well-rounded education for every student.”

The WTU survey asks participants to rank the importance (or lack thereof) of the following:

–“Experience leading an urban school district.”
–“Experience working in schools with children from low-income communities.”
–“Experience in educational programming and curriculum for all grade levels.”
–“Track record of effective district level strategic plans and implementation.”
–“Command of the use of data in evaluation and accountability.”
–“Proven experience improving a low-performing school as a school-level administrator.”
–“Experience managing the business and fiscal operations of a large public agency.”
–“Record of fair and positive dealings with unions in collective bargaining and contract enforcement.”
–“Knowledge and appreciation for the importance of school facilities maintenance.”
–“Commitment to developing collaborative relationships among central office staff, principals, teachers, parents and students.”
–“A philosophy of teacher support and training as the most important means to high quality teaching.”

As a taxpayer and parent, I absolutely want a chancellor with all of those qualifications and characteristics. They are vital to a by right school system being able to thrive and meet the needs of students.

But then there pops up this nagging thought:

Why does anyone even have to say any of this?

For sure, the mayor is busy and has lots to oversee; making these points easily accessible is only to the good.

Yet, in every piece of paper and email from the chancellor and other DC public officials that has come to me, a DCPS parent for more than a decade, I have been shown only the best of that school system: higher test scores, more students, new prizes and awards. Even bad news–say, low test scores, a scandal–is transformed into opportunity and the possibility of change for the better.

Now I get that spin: In our local bastion of school choice, where parents must make important decisions annually about their children’s schools (sometimes on the basis of inaccurately reported test scores and do or die metrics, resulting in disruptive school closures), it is vital to tout positive news.

But there is a yawning gulf between that casting of a happy reality and what many people invested in our schools are experiencing (and testifying about). And it’s precisely that gulf that moves us to remind the mayor to select a chancellor with “tenacity in advocating for current and future DCPS families” or a “knowledge and appreciation for the importance of school facilities maintenance,” even when logic and reason dictate that these qualifications are, well, self-evident.

After all, who wants a chancellor who would NOT advocate for current and future families in DCPS? Who wants a chancellor lacking knowledge of school facilities?

However desirable these qualities are, however, they are being articulated precisely because there is that yawning gulf.

Or to be more specific:

At no point in the sad saga of the physical plant of my kids’ DCPS elementary school did I see anyone from DCPS central office testify before the council, or send angry missives to the mayor, about the fact that the students had classes in the hallways because of HVAC failures.

(Or had to be evacuated because of gas leaks caused by infrastructure way past its useful life.)

At no point did I see the chancellor or anyone from her office intervene when my son’s middle school baseball team played other DCPS middle school teams without experienced coaches or adequate practice, such that those teams were quickly mercied out, much to the chagrin of all the kids, who only wanted to play a game.

(Imagine that: kids just wanting to play a game!)

And at no point did the chancellor or anyone from her office intervene when my middle school’s budget was slashed brutally and unexpectedly because of projected enrollment shortfalls. Beloved teachers laid off have never returned.

To be sure, some of these issues are resolved now.

But not, as far as I know, because of anyone in DCPS central acting with–to pick just two of the many necessary qualifications listed above–“tenacity in advocating for current and future DCPS families” or “knowledge and appreciation for the importance of school facilities maintenance.”

I can only wonder how different DCPS would be if we had had chancellors with all those qualifications and, more importantly, a willingness to act on them.

Because, in the end, this chancellor search isn’t really about qualifications, is it?

Rather, it’s about the possibility of a chancellor seeing the same landscape as most people in DCPS already do, as shown by those similarly oriented lists of qualifications above–and then working to make DCPS better, with “better” defined not by a committee or public officials or test scores, but by the actual users of the system: teachers, parents, students, staff.

DCPSSpeeding: Selecting the Next Chancellor

In taking some weeks away from this blog to attend to summer, I didn’t realize that I might miss the entire DCPS chancellor selection process.

As it is, the mayor’s chancellor selection advisory committee (announced just last week) might not even have time to hear much public input, as the mayor has indicated she wants to select the next chancellor by October.

I believe this timeline, not only given the speed with which the committee was formed but also the dates of the scheduled community forums (all 6:30-8 pm: August 30 (Roosevelt HS), September 7 (Eastern HS), and September 14 (Savoy Elementary)) to solicit opinions from the general public on what the new chancellor should be, do, think about, etc.

(Must ask: Does this speediness mean the preferred candidate is already known to DCPS–say, someone who has worked for DCPS? Even perhaps someone who is (also) a former deputy mayor for education? Hmm.)

Anyhow, the mayor just picked 17 people to serve on her chancellor selection advisory committee (called, without irony, the DCPS Rising Leadership Committee). The committee seems to have some oddities, including several charter proponents and very few teachers or students, which appears kind of, erm, backward (though maybe it’s a signal that people from DCPS will now regularly advise/comprise the charter board and DC charter schools?).

Regardless, given that this entire process is in the control of the mayor, and on a fast track, the committee’s composition may be less important than the input it receives–which must necessarily be on a fast track as well.

The committee is meeting three times before giving recommendations to the mayor (no dates announced, and no doubt private meetings, but perhaps August, September, and September?). The committee is also required to show up to at least one of the citywide forums detailed above.

Here are some other ways to give input:

School advocacy group C4DC just drafted a letter to the mayor for education councils citywide to sign on to, detailing the five qualities most desired in the next chancellor. If you have suggestions to improve the letter, or want to sign on, please send a note asap to dc.shappe@gmail.com.

–There are also “stakeholder” phone calls by the deputy mayor for education, who is also running the community forums. Not sure if/how this involves giving feedback (my only experience with this kind of phone call was rather, um, one-way), but these calls are on August 12 and September 27, both at 2 pm; if interested, email dcpsrising@dc.gov and ask to be included.

–There are apparently online tabs available through http://www.engagedcps.org, which the DCPS Rising website says can take our comments and ideas and allow us to participate in surveys. To be sure, I am a technoklutz, so I don’t doubt there is a way to do this—but I have not mastered it (despite trying; good luck).

DCPS Food Contract Approval (or Not): Today

Today, July 12, the city council will vote on the new contract for food services for DCPS.

This is a fascinating exercise, given that the contract was months late, with hardly any time for review, and that food will be served to students starting on August 8 (yeah–even earlier than I thought before).

The council hearing last week, on July 6 after an emergency extension for review of the contract, made clear that the information in the contract, its summary, and the request for proposals were quite different documents; that issues of waste, freshness, quality, selection (not enough dietary choices), and lack of drink options were not clearly pursued and outlined, much less solved; and that no or very few (not clear) students were involved in taste tests.

Oh, not to mention that the main contractor proposed for most DCPS schools, Sodexo, had at least 40 different violations and settlements for poor performance in the past (including serving horse meat); there is no way to ensure a penalty for poor performance at DCPS in this contract; that rebates for food prices are guaranteed for the contractor, allowing the company to save money by buying the cheapest possible food and pocketing the savings (something that got the prior vendor, Chartwells, into trouble in New York state—now, that pocketing of savings in DC is built into the proposed contract); and that it is not likely that another contractor will be chosen next year, thus ensuring that once this contract is approved, Sodexo will continue for years forward barring some gross(er?) violations.

Oh, and let’s not forget to mention that a secret panel at DCPS comprised of four (unknown) people approved this vendor.

What can possibly go wrong?

NB: If the council votes to NOT approve the contract today, food will still be served: DCPS can enact an emergency contract for food services.

Given that the four horsemen of our DC public education apocalypse (Allen, Cheh, Grosso, and Silverman) were the only ones at that hearing last week, maybe DCPS has this one in the bag.

(Confidential to no-show Jack Evans, running for re-election: You say you’re concerned about council “meddling” in city contracts, so can we conclude that this contract, at $35 million annually, is not merely a relative drop in (your) bucket, but that tens of thousands of DC kids who have NO other source of food for their entire day don’t deserve better oversight? Even food advocates have a work-around if it’s approved.)

Well, if you are moved this morning by the thought of our kids eating food provided by a company without a stellar track record or sunshine in its contract with our city, feel free to call the council and let them know that maybe, just maybe, there needs to be a bit more sunshine for the sake of kids who must endure what we adults do on their behalf:

Brianne Nadeau, Ward 1, 202-724-8181
Jack Evans, Ward 2: 202-724-8058 (running for re-election)
Mary Cheh, Ward 3: 202-724-8062
Brandon Todd, Ward 4: 202-724-8052 (running for re-election)
Kenyan McDuffie, Ward 5: 202-724-8028
Charles Allen, Ward 6: 202-724-8072
Yvette Alexander, Ward 7: 202-724-8068 (defeated in primary; has nothing to lose by voting to disapprove the contract)
LaRuby May, Ward 8: 202-724-8045 (defeated in primary; has nothing to lose by voting to disapprove the contract)
David Grosso, at large: 202-724-8105 (running for re-election)
Elissa Silverman, at large: 202-724-7772
Anita Bonds, at large: 202-724-8064
Vincent Orange, at large: 202-724-8174 (defeated in primary; has nothing to lose by voting to disapprove the contract)
Chairperson Phil Mendelson: 202-724-8032

Lead in Water: Getting Angry

As someone with a young child in DC during DC’s lead in water scandal of 2004, I thought my reactions to lead in water were pretty, well, reasonable.

That is, I think I know the science and the possibilities both in remediation as well as damage.

But I was wrong about my reasonableness.

Because as I watched the June 22 hearing of our city council on the latest lead in water fiasco in our DC public schools, I found myself getting, well, unreasonable, if not downright angry.

Not that anyone at the hearing was unreasonable: Many people testified about reasonable measures for remediation, for testing, for proactive stances. No one was uncouth, rude, or otherwise lacking decorum. I learned about a number of great organizations working on this issue (Campaign for Lead-Free Water; Lead-Free DC Schools; Parents for Nontoxic Alternatives; Black Millennials for Flint; etc.). The council members present asked great questions, pursued leads, were dogged, etc.

Rather, what made me angry was the huge gulf between our city’s long, and very poor, track record on this issue that parents, teachers, and others testified about–and the, well, relaxed stances of the public officials in charge who testified.

The latter were, to a person, just not alarmed in a way that I, as a citizen, as a parent, as a DC public education consumer, need them to be alarmed.

At times, it was hard to watch. After officials talked about labeling sources with high lead levels using placards saying not to drink from them; when I and council members on the dais could not figure out what devices were getting tested; when they were getting tested; and what the criteria were for re-testing (15 parts per billion (ppb) or 1 ppb, the city’s new standard for lead in water); and how many schools actually have been affected–finally, in the fourth hour of the hearing (!), hearing co-chair Mary Cheh noted that the council had asked for, repeatedly, the protocols used for testing and remediation and still didn’t have them.

Really: Four hours of one hearing, and who knows how many months after high lead levels were found in school water devices, and we STILL do not have testing and remediation protocols for all public water sources?

Instead, what we got from those agencies when their representatives testified was

1. Concern about the cost of testing (after noting that it cost between $80,000 to $100,000 to test charter school water devices, charter board staff member Audrey Williams said it would be good to limit costs so as not to place an “undue burden” on charter budgets);

2. Concern that the lead in water found extensively throughout our schools was being seen as a health crisis rather than as a communications crisis (multiple people, including deputy mayor for education Jennifer Niles and deputy city administrator Kevin Donahue); and

3. A bald note that there is nothing that those agencies can do about lead in water in entirely new school buildings in DC other than to put filters on all devices dispensing water (Christopher Weaver, head of DGS, the agency in charge of DCPS school buildings and their water testing).


While it is indeed true that lead in water is not always the primary way in which lead is delivered to our kids, lead is nonetheless a public health problem when it is present in anything that children consume. It’s not just me saying this: two days before the hearing, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a recommendation that all existing standards for lead exposure be immediately revised in light of the fact that no amount of lead exposure is safe for kids.

Maybe the messaging from the agencies was affected by who was in that hearing room.

That is, of the 8 councilmembers who are on both committees that held the hearing (education and transportation and the environment), only two—David Grosso and Mary Cheh, the heads of those committees, respectively)–were there for the duration.

The only other councilmembers who put in an appearance AT ALL were Charles Allen, a member of both committees, who showed up about 40 minutes into the proceedings; and Kenyan McDuffie, a member of the transportation and environment committee, who showed up about 5 hours into the 6-hour hearing.

Elissa Silverman, who is on neither committee, showed up about an hour into the hearing.

(There was no other hearing occurring at the same time, according to the council calendar.)

Here for the record are the no-show councilmembers:

–Jack Evans (running for re-election, member of transportation and the environment committee)
–Yvette Alexander (was running for re-election, but was defeated in the primary; member of education committee)
–Anita Bonds (member of education committee)
–Brandon Todd (member of both committees and running for re-election)

(Confidential to the council: did you ever think about making Silverman a member of the education committee? Unlike some current members of that committee (hello, Brandon Todd!), she actually shows up to hear what us unwashed masses of DC public education consumers say.)

To be fair, there was a lot of good information in the testimony the public presented and in the questions and comments of councilmembers:

–Lead in water in DC schools was first identified in 1987, almost 30 years ago.

–There was a voluntary program on lead in water testing started in 2007—only in DCPS.

–6,598 water sources at DCPS have been tested since spring and bar-coded. Testing will be done annually on all devices in DCPS.

–Filters will be placed on all devices in DCPS and recreation centers in the next 4-6 months. The prioritization for filters will be in early childhood locales first; then middle schools; then high schools. All devices with lead levels greater than 15 ppb already have filters installed. (Not clear if that is everywhere in the city or only in DCPS and rec centers—statement was made by the DME at 5:07.)

–There will be a “rolling schedule,” per the head of DGS, for changing water filters, since they last only 1 year. He was unsure whether devices dispensing water with higher lead levels would require more frequent changing of filters.

–In DCPS, the regime is to have DGS send its lead in water results to DCPS. If there are actionable levels, DGS takes the water device off line and DCPS sends a letter to the principals, which is to be disseminated to the school community.

–2,727 water devices at DC charter schools have been tested since spring. It is not clear if that testing will be done annually going forward; how the filters that have been paid for this year by the city for those charter schools will be used going forward; and who will pay for new ones as needed.

–The fact that some devices tested higher in a second retest suggests that the lead in the fixtures themselves can flake off randomly, making a single round of tests likely to give unfairly reassuring results.

–Many DC kids who are eligible for Medicaid are not getting blood lead tests.

–There are language access barriers to communicating lead in water issues.

–A parent from West Education Campus counted 1,832 devices in DCPS alone that dispensed water with lead levels lower than the federal standard (15 ppb) but higher than the new city standard (1 ppb). She asked that until filters are installed, all these devices be turned off.

–Blood tests of kids at affected schools occurred months after the water consumption and thus had the potential to miss the problem.

–The federal standard for lead in bronze water fixtures was revised in 2014, ensuring less lead used (but not eliminating it).

–There is supposed to be a facilities assessment of all charter schools; this will be discussed today, July 11, at a council hearing on new legislation governing the master facilities plan, which apparently also calls for identifying and addressing lead and asbestos hazards in schools and giving them an “environmental report card.”

–Lead in water results for city libraries were posted June 21.

–Despite having actionable levels of lead in water, some devices in schools were neither shut off nor given filters (i.e., at Sousa MS).

–Deputy city administrator Kevin Donahue committed to funding all testing for lead in water in all public schools on a “random” basis.

–Not clear if childcare facilities will have testing, as many are privately owned and operated.

and, perhaps unsurprisingly,

–There are no lead in water experts in any city agency

Council members present did ask a number of good questions whose answers remain unknown, such as a clearly outlined policy of principal notification; a more usable data format for reporting drinking water test results; city-wide efforts to get information out in a timely manner via TV and newspaper ads; ensuring that “Do Not Drink” signs are actually effective for children who cannot read and who on a hot summer day might easily just put their mouths to the nearest source of water (outdoor hose, sink faucet, etc.); and a new standard for materials used in the plumbing of new buildings.

(The last is interesting inasmuch as the head of the city agency in charge of all DCPS renovations did not appear to have information about lead-free plumbing fixtures. But a quick google search yielded this document issued by the EPA concerning how to identify lead-free plumbing fixtures. And three states—California, Maryland, and Vermont—have recently passed legislation to reduce the amount of lead in plumbing fixtures for drinking and cooking in those states. Just a guess, but maybe someone in those states might know something about lead-free plumbing fixtures?)

Regardless of one’s thoughts about public buildings in the capital of the richest nation on earth having any water devices that require a “Do Not Drink” sign, huge disparities in testing, remediation, and future management of water devices remain.

Take just the recently posted results for charter schools: each school as its own entity contracts with different testing agencies, each with different protocols (re-testing, flushing, etc. are not specified), different measurements (micrograms versus milligrams), and different numbers of devices tested (some schools had only a few devices tested), with no apparent consistency on labeling to ensure the device is clearly identified.

At least I am not alone in being angry: Saying he was “completely appalled” by the calm demeanor of city officials, including the (few) council members present, Jeff Canady of We Act Radio called for the US attorney’s office as well as the attorney general of DC to investigate lead in school water as a criminal matter.

Certainly, there is ample precedent for stepping up concern: A prominent legal firm just filed a class action lawsuit against Philadelphia for poor lead in water testing protocols that allow high levels to go unobserved.

Then there is the lawsuit, still ongoing, against DC’s water authority, for the lead in water scandal in 2004, brought by parents of children who were allegedly harmed by exposure to lead in DC’s water.

Not to mention the outrage generated by the poor reporting of lead in school water in Portland, Oregon (causing some parents to call for the ouster of the superintendent); the ongoing health crisis caused by Flint, Michigan’s, water; and lead in water in Newark, NJ, schools.

Come to think of it, maybe being outraged is the only reasonable stance to take.

School (Chancellor) Choice

In DC, the legislation that delivered mayoral control of public schools (the Public Education Reform Amendment Act, or PERAA) also specified a clear process for the mayor selecting the head of the by right system, DCPS:

“[The mayor shall]

“(A) Establish a review panel of teachers, including representatives of the Washington Teachers Union, parents, and students (“panel”) to aid the Mayor in his or her selection of Chancellor;
(B) Provide the resumes and other pertinent information pertaining to the individuals under consideration, if any, to the panel; and
(C) Convene a meeting of the panel to hear the opinions and recommendations of the panel.

“The Mayor shall consider the opinions and recommendations of the panel in making his or her nomination and shall give great weight to any recommendation of the Washington Teachers Union.”

Since Kaya Henderson, the current DCPS chancellor, announced she was leaving at the end of September, we DC public education consumers may now see this legally codified process for the first time (it didn’t appear to be followed (publicly, anyway) for either Henderson or her predecessor).

Today, deputy mayor for education (DME) Jennifer Niles held a conference call with what she called “education leaders” in DC, including invited PTA/PTO leaders, members of the cross sector task force, and ward education councils. The phone call, wherein the DME talked, and a few callers asked questions, was to outline the process of selecting a new chancellor.

According to the DME, Mayor Bowser is currently selecting members of this review panel, which Niles noted will have geographic and experiential diversity and will include teachers, principals, students, parents, and community reps. The DME also noted that the mayor expects to name the panel co-chairs next week.

That said, it is not clear what the timeline of the panel is nor whether its meeting(s) (also unspecified) would be public. The DME did note that there will be two or three citywide community engagement forums over the future of DCPS. The DME said she wanted members of the advisory panel to be in attendance at each forum and garner input from across the city on what the priorities for the new chancellor will be in the next 5-10 years.

The DME also promised the creation of a website on the search, while noting that a professional firm will be doing a nationwide hunt.

This could all go well. That said, the history of citizen involvement in our public school governance has been, well, rough.

The state board of education itself–our only directly elected overseers of public education in DC–was apparently not initially invited on the call, because the DME’s office did not include email addresses for the board members on the emailed invite from this past Friday.

As it is, I got an invite only yesterday evening, after days of phone calls and emails to the DME’s office, asking what was the process for selecting a new chancellor. Don’t get me wrong–I was glad to be part of the phone call–but have to wonder if everyone who similarly pestered got an invite.

(Or who might have pestered to get an invite had they known this phone call even existed.)

Given my (unsuccessful) attempts to ask questions during the phone call, and the fact that only seven people were able to do so, perhaps citizen involvement in this process is more abstract than I or others (who were also attempting to ask questions–and could not) might like.

But in this election year, council education committee chair David Grosso appears to be listening. Grosso is holding a couple of public meetings for DC public school teachers, wherein they can discuss with him their concerns. The meetings are from 6:30-8:30 pm on July 18 (Anacostia Library) and August 2 (Petworth Library). You can RSVP here.

Some DC public school educators may prefer anonymity to an RSVP, however: a few days ago, DCPS parents received an email from the central office, touting the great new principals at 22 DCPS schools, without any recognition that 22 schools is about 20% of DCPS schools and not all those principals were exercising their choice.

(But what’s disturbing for some is, oddly, a success for others.)

When Standardized Testing, and Its Reporting, Are Not Standardized

In an earlier blog post, I wrote about the (generally unknown) fact that different DC public middle schools administered different PARCC math tests to their students last year without any accurate or obvious public acknowledgement of this.

The lack of sunshine is extensive: test scores reported on all four publicly available websites for DC public school comparisons– My School DC (run by the lottery, to enable school comparisons for school choice); school equity reports; Learn DC (run by OSSE, the office of the state superintendent of education), and DCPS profiles—show only a combined test score for DC public middle schools that combines the scoring from those different tests into one number for the school’s math test score.

Here, I explore further the ramifications of this misleading use of public data.

Take my middle school, DCPS’s Stuart-Hobson, as an example.

Here is the percent proficient at each level for the SY 14-15 PARCC math test reported for Stuart-Hobson on the My School DC, school equity reports, Learn DC, and DCPS websites:

Level 1: 24%

Level 2: 41%

Level 3: 25%

Level 4: 9%

Level 5: 1%

This information, promulgated widely by our city agencies in charge of education on those four websites, allows one to conclude that only 10% of students at Stuart-Hobson have “met” or “exceeded” expectations (levels 4 and 5) in math. And it also allows one to conclude that more than half of the school’s students scored at the lowest levels of PARCC’s math test last year.

But as confirmed by OSSE last week, these numbers are not Stuart-Hobson’s exact test score data, but rather an aggregate of test scores from different tests taken by students at the school.

That is, the numbers reported on those websites were created by OSSE combining the test scores of students who took different PARCC math tests at Stuart-Hobson. OSSE then derived a number from the scores–as if the different tests were equivalent.

Not only does this leave out important information (different tests were taken; some tests involved more advanced math and, presumably, were more difficult)–but it also obscures the actual performance of Stuart-Hobson students on those advanced tests.

For instance, 15% of the students at Stuart-Hobson (grades 6 through 8) took advanced PARCC math tests in SY 14-15. Of the Stuart-Hobson 8th graders who took the (advanced) algebra test (57 students, or about 44% of all 8th graders taking PARCC math tests at Stuart-Hobson that year), 24% of those 8th grade algebra test takers scored proficient (at least level 4).

In other words, many Stuart-Hobson students who took the more advanced PARCC math tests last year did well on them.

But you would never know it from that aggregated 10% proficient rate at the school reported above, which blithely combines test scores for different tests and completely obscures how actual students are performing.

Sadly, this poor handling and reporting of data is not just a problem for Stuart-Hobson: it is a problem at every DC public middle school that administered different PARCC math tests to different sets of its students, because each middle school’s PARCC math test results were similarly reported (and similarly obscured).

For the record, that is a total of 21 schools:

Brightwood EC

Cardozo EC

Columbia Heights EC

Deal MS

Eliot-Hine MS

Friendship PCS Technology Preparatory Academy

Hardy MS

Jefferson Middle School Academy

Johnson MS

Kelly Miller MS

McKinley MS

Oyster Adams

Raymond EC

School Without Walls at Francis Stevens

Sousa MS

Stuart-Hobson MS

Takoma EC

Truesdell EC

Two Rivers PCS

West EC

Whittier EC

Although this list does not include all DC public schools offering middle school grades, it does have a preponderance of DCPS schools. That is, of the 21 schools listed that offered advanced PARCC math tests in SY14-15, only 2 are charter schools (and only one campus of one charter school, Friendship).

Moreover, of the 28 DCPS schools that have an 8th grade, 19 of them (68%) used advanced tests for all or some of their 8th graders. Of the 37 DC public charter schools offering 8th grade, only Two Rivers and this one campus of Friendship (5% of all DC public charter middle schools) used these advanced tests for some or all of their 8th graders.

This means that for 68% of DCPS middle schools, the reported PARCC math test scores on our city’s readily available and purposely designed websites to compare schools (My School DC, Learn DC, equity reports, and DCPS’s own website) are not reporting test performance that can be compared in ANY manner to PARCC math test scores of most DC public charter schools or to PARCC math test scores of the remainder of DCPS middle schools.

At DC public middle schools in SY 14-15, the following PARCC math tests were administered:

6th grade math

7th grade math

8th grade math

Algebra 1 (advanced)

Geometry (advanced)

Some schools gave only the basic tests (the first three above); others gave a combination of the two; and a few gave only the advanced tests (last two).

Attached here is a chart showing which middle schools gave advanced PARCC math tests last year; how many students took those tests; and the percentage of the total students at each who took those tests.

These numbers are reported directly by OSSE—but are not at all available on those school comparison websites. To access the data that informs this chart (created specifically for this blog) and to understand that not every middle school is administering the same PARCC math test, you need to go to the main data reporting site of OSSE and then back out the information yourself.

For each school.

Did I say that this chart took hours to create?

How many parents will do that during lottery season?

How many parents will do it right now?

As that chart makes clear, however, the percentage of 8th graders taking advanced PARCC math tests varies wildly, from a low of 2% to 100% at each middle school that offered those tests, so deriving conclusions from these data is difficult, if not impossible (i.e., who are the students, were they indeed all taking advanced courses or only a subset of the test takers taking advanced courses?, etc.).

As reported before on this blog, OSSE says that its guidelines recommend that each school offers tests according to each school’s math curriculum.

For charter schools, that is a direct proposition: each charter school is its own decision maker.

But it is not clear–nor did OSSE know when I asked–what guidelines DCPS offers its schools as to which PARCC math tests are administered at each middle school (and which students therein take them).

Such untrackable testing methodology also has ramifications: As reported before, two different, but demographically comparable, DCPS middle schools–Hardy and Stuart-Hobson–had different numbers of students last year taking the advanced PARCC math tests. Not surprisingly, the school with the larger number of advanced test takers did not have as high scores as the other.

This suggests that a middle school being selective about test takers for more advanced PARCC math tests is a good strategy if that school wants to maximize scoring.

The problem, of course, is that this differential in math tests administered within middle school grades is not publicly acknowledged anywhere–not at OSSE, not at DCPS, nor at the schools themselves, so even if one had the time to track that decision making at each school, the answers are not available.

Needless to say, the differential in those tests, who takes them, and their scores can have ramifications that go directly to how parents perceive the quality of the school; how its teachers are scored; and how its performance is judged. After all, our public schools live and die by their test scores.

There is a bit of other nuance here as well:

DCPS education campuses, which go from elementary grades through middle school, have campus-wide PARCC reporting on those four, widely available websites. That reporting combines elementary school math scores with middle school math scores. This is not merely confusing–it is downright misleading, as it is yet again evidence of combining scores of completely different tests (in this case, among different, and distinct, populations of test takers: elementary age and middle school age).

Moreover, not every student is represented in the more detailed reporting available through OSSE, on which the chart here is based.

For instance, footnote #2 of the middle school table reported by OSSE says the following:

“Aggregated results also include ‘Full Academic Year’ rules, meaning that students attributed to a school’s results for accountability must be enrolled in the school on the date of the enrollment audit and on March 30; students who do not meet this rule were not applied to school aggregations.”

This means that not only is there an unknown percentage of test takers at each school not being reported at all, anywhere, but that of the students who take advanced math tests at the middle school level, there will be some who are in fact omitted from the reporting.

These problems with DC’s PARCC reporting occur at the high school level as well, but there a different problem exists: data from students taking more advanced tests is simply omitted from the widely available and publicly reported data on those school comparison websites—unless the entire school is using the advanced tests.

Say what you will about the prior incarnation of DC standardized testing, but at least all students at each grade took the same test.

If the purpose of PARCC is to show basic levels of accomplishment, and what is needed to go beyond that, then having different tests at all in one grade is not merely misleading, but requires care and attention for reporting that we in DC are clearly not getting.

Either we use these tests to show what is needed—or we test to show how well our students are doing in advanced courses.

Barring huge changes in reporting, you cannot have it both ways.

And given how reliant we are in using test scores to make all sorts of conclusions about our public education system, the ramifications of such poor handling of data means that schools, teachers, students, WILL be judged wrongly.

Is that something we want?

Not likely–so how about it, OSSE? How about it, Mayor Bowser? How about it, deputy mayor for education Jennifer Niles? How about it, state board of education?

Oh, The Places You’ll (Not Be Able to) Go . . .

Now that we are in July, it’s instructive to see how many issues of public education in DC in the last calendar year have simply, well, disappeared from public view.

Here are a few–feel free to chime in with others, since the darkness is expansive:

1. An independent entity to assess public education in DC. The legislation that set up mayoral control of schools in DC required a 5-year evaluation, which we got last year (and then some), courtesy of the National Research Council.

Among the many conclusions was that an independent entity ought to regularly assess the quality and provision of public education in DC.

We are not getting that.

The mayor did put into the FY17 budget $11 million in additional funds for OSSE to improve what data collection they do have, which the council approved.

But this is not a heart-warming exercise:

OSSE is the same agency that has promulgated test scores that are frankly misleading–and with which parents select schools and schools themselves are judged (and even closed).

There was also nothing that came out of the public education summit at the Urban Institute in March on this subject (and nothing available publicly, either, of the meeting itself).

(To be fair, that didn’t stop the Urban Institute from subsequently publishing this, which is pretty amazing given that it’s a complete misrepresentation of what happens in DC.)

2. A public education data warehouse. This was called for in the NRC report from last year, to be ready by the end of this calendar year. See #1 above.

3. A debate about public school preferences. During the March oversight hearing for the deputy mayor for education (DME), the chair of the council’s education committee, David Grosso, alluded to a coming “debate about preferences.”

Since then, crickets.

That same discussion at the hearing also featured the director of the DC public school lottery, Cat Peretti, talking about the “robust” feedback she got from parents participating in the lottery this year (a fraction of the total of DC public school parents). This was in response to Grosso asking about using lottery data for programming, location, and why parents choose certain schools.

That feedback–consisting of 3000 respondents and focus groups in each ward–was shared with the Urban Institute, but is still not publicly available, despite Grosso asking to see it.

Well, to be fair, Grosso very well might have seen that feedback–but the rest of us are still in the dark and have no way to know whether anyone in the government (as opposed to private individuals at the private Urban Institute) is actually using that feedback for the sake of the public–who has not merely paid to get that feedback, but whose schools and communities may very well depend on it.

One might consider going to a meeting of the lottery board and asking–but I cannot even figure out when the next meeting is, since the DME alluded to a meeting on July 25 on p. 33 of her written responses to council, but the lottery board website lists August 4 as the next meeting–and no time and no location.

(Never knew how little sunshine there was in July in DC.)

4. The DME’s district priority goals. To be fair, the DME may very well have released these, after extolling them in testimony before the council in the spring. After all, it’s not like everything education-related is always, um, heralded on the DME website, even when it is promised (and legally required).

But those of us with middle school kids are still waiting for the promise inherent in the DME’s statement back in March, which was that the district goals would include making “public middle schools the premier choice for all students and families.”

5. The Education Counsel’s final report for the cross sector task force on school collaboration in other cities. This was supposed to be released after April 18, but it’s nowhere to be found publicly.

That said, the earlier draft never really got into the stuff that we find ourselves dealing with here in DC, such as rundown DCPS schools and declines in enrollment in those schools (and lack of discernible action to reverse any of that).

That draft did, however, take pains to mention the struggles that charter operators have in their facilities. For those of us who have struggled with poor facilities that have been neglected far longer than any charter school has existed here in DC, that’s kind of, well, painful.

But par for this course, apparently, as that draft report also mentioned the political challenges to charter schools in a variety of areas—without any seeming recognition of the fact that charter schools are not equivalent to by right schools and that those political challenges may very well have arisen out of the inability of decision makers to understand (or accept) that fact.