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Local: Education

D.C. creates five-year schools plan

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

The D.C. agency that oversees DC Public Schools and the city's charter schools has created a five-year plan detailing goals for improving students' academic progress and graduation rates, The Washington Examiner has learned.

Under "The District of Columbia State Education Plan," created by the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, schools would need to cut in half the number of students "who are not academically performing as expected" and reduce the number of students who do not graduate from high school by 10 percent each year.

Currently, about 61 percent of D.C. public high school students graduate within four years. The goals would have 75 percent of students passing their DC Comprehensive Assessment System tests and 75 percent of high school students graduating.

Ayan Islam, a spokeswoman for the agency, said the plan was shared at OSSE's Parent and Family Engagement Summit in September. She characterized the five-year plan as repackaging the District's waiver for flexibility from the federal No Child Left Behind law, which would have required 100 percent of students to be proficient in math and reading by 2014.

The benchmark for getting 75 percent of students to pass their standardized tests was the hallmark of the District's successful waiver. But other elements of the plan, such as the ambitious goal to increase the graduation rate, were not previously touted as part of the waiver. And a spokeswoman for DCPS, as well as several education advocates, said they were not aware when contacted of what the State Education Plan was.

DCPS announced its own five-year plan earlier this year, with some slightly conflicting benchmarks. For instance, the traditional school system aims to have 70 percent of its students proficient in reading and math, with double the number of students scoring in the "advanced" range. Others are right on the mark: DCPS also aims to have 75 percent of high school students graduate within four years.

After being shown a four-page document and a PowerPoint presentation on OSSE's plan, DCPS spokeswoman Melissa Salmanowitz said in an email, "The overall goals of this plan are aligned with our overall goals of providing all our children with a great education."

David Pickens, executive director of DC School Reform Now, said he questioned whether OSSE had any authority to implement its goals. While in Maryland and Virginia the local schools are clearly beholden to the state education departments, both DCPS and OSSE report to the mayor.

"You'd almost have to have the mayor reporting to OSSE," Pickens said. "The agency has always been set up for failure. They're doing the best they can given the circumstances, but its setup doesn't lend itself to real power."

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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