Since her appointment by D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), acting State Superintendent Dr. Christina Grant has repeatedly asserted that District public and public charter school students, after years without being tested, must receive assessments to determine the gravity of pandemic-related learning loss.
But her viewpoint doesn’t bode well with District teachers, many of whom converged on a recent D.C. Council hearing which addressed whether Grant will permanently run the Office of the State Superintendent for Education (OSSE).
Many of those teachers, represented by local education organization EmpowerEd, submitted inquiries to the council that questioned the merits of the PARCC and other forms of standardized testing, especially after a pandemic experience that further revealed both social and racial inequities in education.
“We heard a lot from the city about the need to assess students but that misses that educators are assessing students every day. They’re figuring out their challenges and what they need help on daily,” said Scott Goldstein, EmpowerEd’s executive director.
“They have the information needed that you wouldn’t get from a centralized assessment. To pile on assessment after assessment is not useful in making decisions that inform learning. That’s where we have really pushed back,” added Goldstein, a former Roosevelt High School teacher.
PARCC, annually administered to District students between the third and eighth grades and to those taking 9th and 10th grade English and math courses, measures students’ preparedness for college and career opportunities on a five-point scale.
Results from the 2019 PARCC exam, when District students last took the test, showed steady growth among students with disabilities, nonwhite students and English language learners.
Even so, questions have surfaced about whether PARCC scores, particularly among those of students from Wards 7 and 8, reflect the totality of their experiences including homelessness and chronic absenteeism. During the pandemic, parents and teachers successfully petitioned for PARCC’s cancellation, citing the need for greater socioemotional learning. Before then, DCPS officials opted to not include PARCC scores as part of a teacher’s IMPACT evaluation for the 2020-2021 academic year.
With the academic year back in full swing and teachers feeling the pinch of in-class assessment and COVID-19 protocols, efforts have increased among EmpowerEd and other teacher advocacy organizations to compel what teachers deem more culturally sensitive and effective alternatives to PARCC.
In response to questions about cultural bias in standardized testing, Grant remained steadfast in her convictions about testing. She reflected on her experiences as a classroom instructor to explain that in terms of rigor and cultural sensitivity, it’s possible for the academic standards in the curriculum to reflect a student’s culture and better align them with test material.
“I’ve always used a standardized assessment in my classroom but what’s beyond the test is the actual teaching,” Grant said to council members on November 12. “We can engage in a conversation about making sure our assessments are high quality and culturally responsive and making sure that’s living and breathing in our curriculum.”
Grant, formerly of the School District of Philadelphia, received her appointment in June after her predecessor, Hanseul Kang, accepted a leadership role within the Broad Center at the Yale School of Management.
By Jan. 27, 2022, Grant’s appointment will be confirmed unless the D.C. Council introduces a resolution nullifying it.
For education advocate Charles Boston, the D.C. Council hasn’t shown much courage in challenging Grant’s nomination and what he has described as Bowser’s other detrimental education decisions. He said the focus on standardized testing that has continued since the Fenty administration has pushed students out of schools and into the streets without any of the new-age skills needed to work and live comfortably in the District.
Over the last year, Boston has attempted to introduce a ballot measure to restore vocational training as a graduation requirement. He described Grant’s management style, and that of her predecessors and colleagues within the District education system, as part of a grand scheme to close schools, privatize public education and further insert corporate entities that do their bidding and not that of the students.
“Dr. Grant has already told you what she’s going to do. The council needs to ask her [about] her plan to reform standardized testing which we know doesn’t measure what students have actually learned or teacher effectiveness,” said Boston, a one-time Ward 7 State Board of Education candidate.
“There’s nothing in it for these students. Our children need to come first. They have to be positioned to be successful as adults. If Dr. Grant was going to change anything coming in as superintendent she would have. She’s going to push an agenda coming out of the mayor’s office,” Boston said.