NAEP Scores: Achievement Gap in D.C. Still Wide

Washington, DC's school option policies came under fire in a New York Times editorial last week. However, Matt Yglesias at Slate claimed that the Times failed to cite student achievement data to back their claim that suburban segregation and the rise of the district's charter schools have left many DC families with only "mediocre" public school options.

This week the federal government published new National Assessment of Educational Progress test score data for some of the nation's largest cities – including DC. And Dana Goldstein at the Nation has analyzed these scores for the District, trying to paint a more complete picture of student achievement in DC over the past decade.

What strikes Goldstein immediately is that while white, black and Hispanic children all made modest test score gains in DC since 2003, Michelle Rhee's chancellorship failed to significantly narrow achievement gaps between the various demographic groups, meaning disadvantaged DC youth are still behind the national average.

Focusing on fourth grade math, in DC since 2003, the black/white score gap remained constant, the poor/non-poor gap grew, and the Hispanic/white gap closed slightly. Goldstein writes:

"Achievement gaps would be less disturbing in and of themselves if overall achievement levels were moderate or high. But what we continue to see in DC is that white students score well above both national and urban district averages for their race; black, Hispanic and poor children score well below national averages for their races and classes. This makes DC the city in the nation with the largest black-white student achievement gap."

It also seems to Goldstein that if you're white or middle-class and living in Washington then chances are your child would attend a socioeconomically segregated neighborhood school and will outperform her peers in suburban public schools. If you are a poor parent and you're not white, on the other hand, your child is more likely to do worse in the DC public schools than he likely would have done in other urban or suburban districts.

The Washington Post recently found that black and Hispanic children in DC charter schools score better on standardized tests than their traditional-school peers. But there isn't enough space in high-quality charter schools to serve every disadvantaged child in Washington, and those left behind at neighborhood public schools continue to be shortchanged, writes Goldstein.

"Michelle Rhee and her successor, Kaya Henderson, have presided over a landscape of modest raw test score gains. Meanwhile, the expansion of school choice in DC encouraged more white and middle-class families to send their children to public schools, and provided an escape route to some poor children who would otherwise have attended failing neighborhood schools."

A reading of the NAEP data shows that Rhee and Henderson have failed to shrink the achievement gaps in DC, or guarantee to low-income parents that their children will receive at least an adequate, "average" education, no matter what school they attend, writes Goldstein.

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