School doors swung open once again this week here in the District with the anticipated visits to selected student bodies by both Mayor Muriel Bowser and DCPS Chancellor Antwan Wilson, who took over in February.
And while Wilson points to a list of improvements as a “testament to the tremendous work of our educators, tremendous leadership and the support of the community,” the results of a recent student test suggest that achievement gaps remain — and in some cases, have even grown wider.
The scores, released last week, come from a computerized exam, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), which uses a five-point scale in English language and mathematics. It’s required for students in grades three through eight and then taken once in high school. Those who score a four or five on the test are said to be “college and career ready.”
There are a few reasons for Wilson and Bowser to celebrate. DCPS showed gains in both subjects, increasing by four points in English language to 31 percent and rising by two points in math to 27 percent, meeting the desired benchmark, respectively. DCPS also fared slightly better than charter schools on both math and English language. But on a less positive note, fewer than a third of the District’s public-school students achieved scores that translate to their being “college and career ready.”
Meanwhile, the ominous achievement gap, which the Department of Education first began to review in 1964, examining inequality of educational opportunities in elementary and secondary schools and gauging differences between schools attended by white and black students, has barely narrowed more than 50 years later. For example, the PARCC results for DCPS revealed a gap of more than 50 percent between students in the more affluent Ward 3 in Northwest and Ward 7 where the majority of the students Black and from low-income households.
Somehow, Wilson must find ways to bring more seasoned, creative teachers to schools located in poorer communities as well as providing programs that help students shore up reading and mathematics skills like preschool and after-school mini-classes and tutoring opportunities. Academic success should not rest on the income of a student’s parents. We trust that where those differences are apparent, DCPS will find innovative, cost-effective ways to make up the difference and provide all students with a greater and therefore more chance to excel.