Third-graders in DC Public Schools have failed to show any gains in math or reading since aggressive school reforms began in 2007, according to an independent analysis of the city's standardized test scores.
The report, to be released Monday by the nonprofit DC Action for Children, also suggests the city's public charter schools do not outperform the traditional school system on the DC Comprehensive Assessment System exams.
"We are spending way too much effort and money in education reform not to see results," said HyeSook Chung, the organization's executive director. "If the data isn't lying, what are we doing wrong? Why aren't we seeing improvements in test scores, which everyone is obsessed with, if we are indeed making change, as the city claims?"
Elder Research Inc. conducted a statistical analysis of test scores from 2007 to 2011 by weighting schools' performance by the number of students who score "below basic," "basic," "proficient" or "advanced" on the exams. Schools were given one to four points for each student in the respective brackets, then averaged and aggregated. Chung says this allowed the researchers to create a more nuanced picture than the results released by the city each year, which have showed an upward trend by examining only whether students are proficient or not.
The group chose 2007 because many of former Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee's reforms began then with the passage of the School Reform Act. It chose the third grade because research cites third-grade proficiency as a key indicator of whether a student will graduate from high school. The third grade is also the first year that students take the exams.
On the one-to-four scale, DCPS' average weighted score in math has inched up from 2.15 to 2.2 from 2007 to 2011 -- an insignificant statistical move. Reading moved from about 2.25 to 2.2.
A spokeswoman for the school system deferred comment to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, the agency that regulates DCPS and the city's charter schools. A spokeswoman for OSSE did not return phone calls seeking comment.
David Grosso, who will begin his term as an at-large D.C. Council member in January, said the report provides "good direction."
"We have to try to be more open and transparent about what's going on in the school reform effort," Grosso said.
The report also suggests that charter schools, which enroll 43 percent of the city's public school students, do not statistically perform better than DCPS. On the weighted scale, charters moved from 2.05 to 2.25 in math, and from 2.25 to 2.3 in reading.
Naomi DeVeaux, deputy executive director of the DC Public Charter School Board, said she would like to see data on older students, as she believes charters help students improve their scores over time.
"Without knowing that, you can't judge a school," DeVeaux said. "How low did students come in? How low below 'basic' were they? And then what growth occurs?"