Dr. Nadia Lopez (Courtesy photo)
Dr. Nadia Lopez (Courtesy photo)

Word in Black is a collaboration of 10 of the nation’s leading Black publishers that frames the narrative and fosters solutions for racial inequities in America.

When thousands of District students sat for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College & Career (PARCC) and Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA) last spring, many of the younger students hadn’t taken these tests before. And it’s been at least three years since students, K-12, engaged in either assessment test. 

Even so, the results of PARCC and MSAA confirmed District officials’ suspicions about students’ academic standing coming out of the pandemic. For them, it also reaffirmed the greater need for accelerated in-person learning.  

“We are employing a wide range of interventions and activities to ensure children have access to learning,” State Superintendent Dr. Christina Grant said. 

On Thursday, Grant, along with DC Public Schools Chancellor Dr. Lewis Ferebee and DC Public Charter School Board Executive Director Dr. Michelle J. Walker-Davis, highlighted tools that schools continue to implement to address pandemic-induced gaps in learning 

“Most schools will look at detailed information based on student-by-student performance. They will have individualized reports to see how students performed across major areas,” Grant said.  

Over the next few years, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education will direct nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funds toward education recovery and restoration efforts. These investments include tutoring expansion, teachers’ literacy training grounded in the science of reading, expanding access to professional development in math instruction, high-impact tutoring and additional staffing. 

PARCC data showed a decrease in English proficiency, especially among students in earlier grades. Nearly 50% of students scored low on English while 60% scored low on math. The percentages indicate that many students have fallen below grade level in both areas, officials said. While math proficiency decreased by 10 percentage points for all ethnic groups, Black and Latino students experienced the largest declines in English. 

At-risk students’ proficiency rates decreased far greater than their counterparts. 

The National Center for Education Statistics’ analysis of long-term reading and mathematics data painted a similarly drastic picture. Nine-year-old students across the nation showed a five percentage point decline in math and English proficiency over two years. This represented the largest nationwide decline in reading since 1990 and the first-time ever decline in mathematics. 

In a statement, Denise Forte, interim CEO of The Education Trust, described the results of the data as disturbing and indicative of resource gaps affecting marginalized communities. 

Meanwhile, Ferebee and Walker-Davis stressed that instruction for the 2022-2023 academic year will focus on mastery, not test preparation. Ferebee highlighted word recognition and number sense as areas in need of improvement, especially among elementary students. 

Walker-Davis said each charter school will tailor instruction based on students’ academic needs reflected in the data. 

Last fall, upon students’ return to in-person learning, public school teachers coalesced around a campaign to cancel standardized testing and focus more on reacclimation to the school environment. That viewpoint received much pushback, particularly from Grant who, during her D.C. Council confirmation hearings, espoused the need for testing data. 

At a time when District schools and other school districts across the U.S. are experiencing teacher shortages, Dr. Nadia Lopez said the onus must be placed on parents and other community members to support teachers who have felt alone in their efforts to educate young people. 

Lopez said the recent findings from PARCC and other assessments should be expected and even likened it to the “summer slide” students experience when they don’t engage in academic enrichment during summer break. 

During the September 2 broadcast of WIN-TV, Lopez, a former principal and mental health advocate from New York City, predicted that, with the infusion of federal funds and the mandate to curb learning loss, school districts will pressure teachers to raise test scores.  

Improving the data, Lopez said, will come at the expense of teachers’ independence and students’ intellectual curiosity.  

“The test results came out [and] in seven months, students will take an assessment and they’re expected to show gains,” Lopez said. 

“Teachers have to show how they have used this money form the government. There won’t be a focus on creativity. It takes away from teachers’ autonomy to address the needs of the children. They’re looking at it as them working against the clock,” she said.

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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