Excel Academy students who received high marks on last year's PARCC pose with the school principal after being awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Spelman College and CNN in Atlanta. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)
Excel Academy students who received high marks on last year's PARCC pose with the school principal after being awarded an all-expenses-paid trip to Spelman College and CNN in Atlanta. (Roy Lewis/The Washington Informer)

With the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Career — also known as the PARCC exam — a little over a month away, schools in the D.C. public and public charter school systems have shifted into high gear to ensure that students score exceptionally on the test that, in part, determines their school’s standing on STAR rating system.

This has especially been the case at At Excel Academy — DCPS’ only all-girls school where students made significant gains on the PARCC within the past two years. In the spirit of encouraging future success, school leaders recently awarded the young ladies who made high marks on last year’s PARCC with an all-expenses-paid trip to Atlanta.

For awardee Kimberly Wade, such an opportunity confirmed the validity of her efforts in the classroom.

“I studied a lot and showed precision in my work. I was trying my hardest and didn’t want to doubt myself [when] I was nervous,” said Kimberly, a fifth grader and dance team member at Excel Academy who aspires to study her craft at the collegiate level. During group visits to Spelman College and CNN headquarters in Atlanta, she hopes to explore various academic programs and meet elder professionals.

“I kept trying and used everything I learned in class to prepare for the PARCC,” added Kimberly, who’s attended Excel since PK-3. “My goal is to exceed what I did last year, and take all of my knowledge and put it into PARCC. In Atlanta, I want to see Spelman College, and how they teach in their programs.”

Earlier in the afternoon, hundreds of young ladies walked into the auditorium, where they would later cheer on their peers who made high marks on the PARCC last year. The surprise followed performances by Excel’s marching band, dance team and cheerleaders. Excel Principal Tenia Pritchard, staff members and students later took to the podium to explain the importance of PARCC and how best to prepare for the assessment.

The PARCC exam — which covers subject areas of English and language arts, math and science — measures students’ needs and progress on a scale of 1 to 5, with a score of 4 showing academic proficiency. Students take the PARCC between the third and eighth grades, and again in the ninth and 10th grades.

In 2010, D.C. joined 24 states in administering the PARCC. Since then, nearly 20 of those states — including Florida, Maryland, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island — have dropped out of the consortium out of concern about Common Core standards and what had been described as federal overreach.

At the beginning of the 2019-2020 academic year, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) announced a fourth consecutive year of a steady increase in PARCC scores and a cumulative increase of 15 percent since 2015. In English and language arts, the proportion of students citywide who scored a 4 or 5 increased by nearly 5 percent while that for math hovered around 2 percent. According to testing data, 26 percent of Excel students who took the PARCC exam scored 4 or 5.

Excel Academy, formerly a low-performing charter school, reopened during the 2018-2019 academic year as a D.C. public school serving girls between grades PK3 and 8. On the first day of school that August, women from Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta sororities, along with affiliates of other organizations gathered on the front lawn of the school as a show of their commitment to breaking institutional barriers that hinder the success of young women of color.

In her 2018 remarks, Pritchard extolled the value of educational equity for her students. During Friday’s assembly, she echoed those sentiments, reminding them what’s at stake when they’re in the testing environment.

“I know we all hate taking tests but it’s important to know that we live in a culture driven by test-taking,” she said. “A test will determine the high school [courses] you take, the college you get admitted to, [and when] you graduate from college.

“Failing these culturally biased assessments can hurt us as [nonwhite] women and girls,” Pritchard continued. “The numbers tell us there’s an achievement gap between Black and white students in the District and across the nation.”

Sam P.K. Collins

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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