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Local education officials have heralded the latest District-wide assessment results as a sign that their multifaceted post-pandemic recovery strategy, much of which has been in effect since last school year, has been working across the board. 

While proficiency rates remain lower than what students achieved in 2019, officials said that young people continue to make moderate gains in English and Language Arts (ELA) and Math. 

“We see steps to pre-pandemic levels [but] we’re not ready for a victory lap,” D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Chancellor Dr. Lewis D. Ferebee said. 

“It’s a testament to the resilience of our staff and students,” he added. “We will continue with high impact tutoring to support students. We will deepen our multi-tier system and continue with the science of reading.” 

Examining the Road the Recovery

Shortly before the pandemic, students demonstrated consecutive growth on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) exam. In 2019, ELA and math scores increased by 12.3 percentage points and 8.4 percentage points, respectively. Students with disabilities, nonwhite students and English-language learners also demonstrated steady improvement. 

Upon students’ return from the pandemic however, District officials saw what they described as signs of learning loss

District-wide assessment results for 2022 showed a decrease in English proficiency among elementary schools and nonwhite students. Math proficiency also decreased across the board for all student groups, while students designated as at-risk experienced far greater declines than their counterparts. 

Around that time, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) directed nearly $1 billion in federal stimulus funds toward education recovery and restoration. 

Those funds would support tutoring expansion, science of reading training, professional development in math, high-impact tutoring and additional staffing. These tools would be executed in the months leading up to the 2023 assessment season when 45,000 public school and public charter school students took PARCC and the Multi-State Alternative Assessment (MSAA). 

Overall, results showed that nearly 34% of District students are meeting or exceeding expectations in ELA while nearly 22% of students are meeting or exceeding expectations in math. All racial and ethnic groups showed increases in math and ELA proficiency from 2022. 

Middle school students showed the greatest improvement in ELA with a 4.5 percentage point increase from last year’s scores, compared to 2.8 percentage points for elementary school students and less than 1 percentage point for high school students. When it came to math, elementary school students showed the greatest improvement with a 4.2 percentage point increase, compared to 2.3 percentage points for elementary school students and less than 1 percentage point for high school students. 

Students designated as economically disadvantaged made smaller gains than their more well-off peers. Meanwhile, more than half of students with disabilities scored at the lowest level on both the math and ELA assessments. 

More than 50 District schools had nearly all students participate in the ELA and math tests. High school participation stood at slightly below 90% while elementary and middle schools had participation rates that surpassed 90%. 

District education officials said competing obligations — capstone projects, field trips, other assessments, dual enrollment and other coursework — caused lower participation rate among high school students. They alluded to ongoing conversations about making assessment season more compatible with high school students’ demanding schedules. 

Earlier in the week, Ferebee, State Superintendent Dr. Christina Grant, Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn and D.C. Public Charter School Board Executive Director Michelle Walker-Davis touted high-impact tutoring, ELA and math teacher training, breakout groups, and review of basic concepts as elements in their collective efforts to increase student achievement. 

Even so, Grant acknowledged the need for additional investments to boost math and ELA proficiency among students with disabilities. 

“We will [set up] additional support for math teacher boot camps,” Grant said. 

“We continue to leverage grant materials and think about how we set up targets,” she continued. “We continue to deepen our investments in literacy. We are thinking about how to leverage foundational training that makes our children stronger readers.” 

Deputy Mayor Kihn Touts a Whole-of-Government Approach to Recovery 

In the coming months, OSSE will announce the rollout of a new assessment that District students will take in the spring. The education agency will also reveal its 2023-2025 strategic plan that Grant said prioritizes equity and ensures the alignment of structural support across the board. 

Meanwhile, the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Education (DME) looks toward the future when federal post-pandemic investments are expected to deplete. Kihn pointed to D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser’s increase of per-pupil funding in the fiscal year 2024 budget as further local investment in youth. 

The deputy mayor’s office has also expressed a commitment to engaging young people on all fronts. Earlier this year, DME’s Office of Out-of-School Time Grants and Youth Outcomes hosted a summertime enrichment fair earlier this year.

On Sept. 9, students, parents and community members will have an opportunity to learn about after-school academic resources during a resource fair at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Northeast that DME officials said will expose people to the bevy of enrichment activities young people can take on this school year. 

“We remain committed to a whole-of-government, child-centered approach to recovery,” Kihn said. “Schools cannot do this work alone. That’s why we remain focused on schools, school building, community, and parents. We have so much more to do.”

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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