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Chantell knows the answer, and she can’t sit still. “Mrs. Long,” she squawks, wagging her hand excitedly. “Mrs. Long!” The 12-year-old teeters her desk chair. But her teacher, Andriette Long, leans against the blackboard on the other side of the room—25 sixth-graders away from Shantell—and repeats a vocabulary word for them to define: vapor.

The students take out No. 2 pencils and scribble in the circles that mark answers to sample multiple-choice questions. The Districtwide Stanford 9 achievement test is only a week away, and the children titter nervously, dropping pencils, breaking the lead points. When they appear to be finished, Mrs. Long peers down through her glasses and asks: “How many said that vapor was a liquid?” Most raise their hands expectantly. “Well, that’s wrong.” Finally, Shantell has her chance. “It’s a gas,” she squeals. “Right,” Long returns, smiling.

The girl extends both arms, raises her fingers, and dips her torso in a seated curtsy as she nods to her classmates. She bows because she has been studying practically every day after school for four months—half her sixth-grade year. At night, she prays that she’ll pass the test and go on to junior high. Her best friend, Elizabeth, already has chosen her school.

But Shantell doesn’t know if she’ll be admitted to a new school. Like 15 of her classmates at Crosby S. Noyes Elementary School and many students in the District, Shantell received Below Basic scores on both reading and math when she took the Stanford 9 standardized test in October. Below Basic means that as of last fall, Shantell didn’t understand most of the material that she should have learned during her first five years of study.

Back in October, District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) officials announced that children like Shantell will be held back unless they can achieve at least a Basic score when they take the test again in April. Basic means “partial mastery of grade-level work”; “full mastery” earns a Proficient. Although some of the teachers in the system aren’t exactly sure how the Stanford 9 results will be used, Shantell’s test score will have a significant role

in determining whether she will be able to join her friends in the seventh grade.

Her teacher is rooting for her. Long has worked in the system for 25 years—most of them at Noyes. She has taught fifth and sixth grades, considered to be the most challenging elementary school levels. Long tolerates little play in her class—she keeps students from misbehaving by loading them with classwork. The walls are laden with educational materials—a drawing of a Nubian princess and a list of new words—”bolted,” “cached,” “rigid.”

Shantell has always had difficulty sitting still in class—when she has news to share with a friend, she tends to jump out of her chair, stroll over, and speak, no matter what else is going on. At the beginning of the year, Long moved Shantell’s desk right next to her own. Shantell whines when Long fails to call on her and thumps her feet excitedly, but she never moves from the seat.

Long ponders how important it is for Shantell and her classmates to take their next step into adulthood. Already they display the first traces of adolescence. Pimples press out of the tight skin around their noses. Girls wear their first bras. Some of the boys have suddenly become gangly; their long legs are folded awkwardly below the child-sized desks. A child whispers; another giggles. “Every time you talk, you’re taking away valuable seconds from test preparation,” Long tells the class.

Only one student appears sanguine. Johnnie leans on his elbows at a desk which the teacher has segregated from the others—fingering tiny dreadlocks that poke out of his head like pins. He wears black from his shirt to his shoes. He vaunts his membership in the Saratoga Street Crew, a fledgling gang. His vocabulary is street: The word “joint” replaces most nouns when Johnnie talks.

Like the other children, Johnnie fills out the practice test paper. But he keeps looking into the hallway through the narrow window near the classroom door. Then he glances at the paper on his desk. Finally, the boy sees what he’s been waiting for: His mother, Theresa, stands outside the classroom against the hallway wall, in her long-sleeved denim shirtdress. Long observes Johnnie’s glances and heads out the door.

In the hallway, the conversation lasts only seconds before the teacher returns and beckons to the boy. For at least the fourth time this school year, the 12-year-old has been suspended—this time for disobeying the school custodian by refusing to pick up a piece of food that had fallen on the floor. Long shakes her head. Johnnie needs to be in class. He too scored Below Basic on both the math and the reading tests of the October Stanford 9, and Long doesn’t know how much practice he’ll get at home.

When he returns to the classroom, Johnnie expresses nonchalance about the test. “If I don’t pass, when I’m 16, I’ll drop out,” he claims, with a haughty lift of his head. “I feel that when you’re 16, you’re old enough, you don’t got to go to school; you get your driver’s [license], your learner’s [permit], and your mother lets you smoke.”

Long knows his apparent indifference is a lie. Day after day, she watches Johnnie scrawl answers to homework assignments on papers that have been torn or muddied on the way to and from school. That’s how he completes the work he misses on the days he’s out of class. He writes while Long leads class lessons. He reads in secret. “I never fuss at him when he’s late doing his homework,” she says. “He keeps up with the assignments, but he is behind the other students.”

Johnnie works because he has a goal. Before his father died in 1996, he showed the boy how to draw a figure in perspective, how to use shadow to show depth and movement. Now Johnnie wants to be an artist, and he practices all the time. A longing for respect also prompts him to study when other tough kids like him would be making trouble. “I want

to pass,” he finally confesses. “I don’t want to

be dumb. I don’t want to get picked on like this

boy….They say he can’t read or nothing.”

Long drills students like Johnnie and Shantell so frequently and efficiently that they recite her advice and admonishments like Bible verses. “My teacher said, ‘Don’t worry about any other thing—keep concentrating on Stanford 9, Stanford 9,’” chants Shantell.

Even Johnnie has spent precious after-school hours drilling for the test: “My mother helped me with that joint [studying for the test]; she helped me a lot. We went to the library, she got me a dictionary and all that. I said, ‘How would I know what to look up if I don’t know how to spell it?’ She said, ‘Sound it out.’”

The students’ familiarity with the test design reflects the efforts of a clutch of concerned teachers, community members, and parents who fear that Noyes students will not do as well as students in other schools. A majority of students here faired poorly on the October exam, and many of the parents do not have the resources to purchase books, computers, or other materials for the students. Two hundred fifty-seven of the school’s 315 students qualify for free lunches, and many of them are from single-parent families.

In October, Noyes counselor Shirley Shannon worked out a schoolwide plan to help both staff and students get ready for the spring test. She organized after-school training sessions for teachers, and passed out practice tests and instructions for proctoring the exams. The school also adopted the citywide Drop Everything and Read [DEAR] program—a mandatory 90-minute reading session each day—to enhance the students’ performance on the reading portions of the test. “We want to bring the students up by at least 10 percent,” Shannon asserts optimistically. “I don’t expect to make a child who is 20 percent below Basic to become Proficient. I expect a 20 to 30—no, a 10 to 20 percent improvement.”

Teachers have an additional incentive to boost the children’s scores. Traditionally, scores on standardized exams like the Stanford 9 have been used as tools to help instructors design their class work. Now, as a part of the District’s campaign to boost academic standards, the scores have also become a measure of teachers’ and principals’ worth. This year, principals’ success in raising student test results is supposed to contribute to the total score on their evaluations.

DCPS has not announced the specific consequences to principals for negative or flat trends in test scores. The traditional practice is to transfer principals who have problems in particular schools; less frequently, such administrators are demoted or fired. By the 1998-99 school year, test results will also be used as a part of teacher evaluations; again, the actual consequences for teachers have not been announced.

DCPS modeled its campaign for higher academic standards after a similar program in Philadelphia—it’s one of the more trendy movements in education. But the Philadelphia School District, which launched its own crusade for higher scores in the 1995-96 school year, has different expectations for what the test can do in the short run. The Philadephia district began testing students right away but does not expect higher Stanford 9 scores until the year 2001, according to Richard Marschiello, director of assessment. That year, student promotion will depend on test scores, among other factors. In contrast, D.C. students are expected to raise their scores right away.

In the District, former Superintendent Gen. Julius Becton Jr. and chairman of DCPS’s emergency board of trustees Bruce MacLaury decided they’d make the children accountable right away. They claimed they wanted to destroy what they perceived as the District’s academic demon: social promotion, the practice of advancing students who fail to meet the basic grade requirements. Becton and MacLaury charged Chief Academic Officer Arlene Ackerman with implementing their reforms. Last fall, Ackerman announced that DCPS would retain children who failed to prove they had mastered their basic grade-level skills on the Stanford 9. But Ackerman promised to provide summer school to help those who failed acquire the needed basic skills to advance one grade.

Still, a swell of parents insisted that their children were being penalized for historical DCPS lapses. Noyes’ Parent-Teacher Association President Saundra Williams is a vociferous opponent of the reforms: “These children had five years of mismanagement—of a failed corporation,” Williams declares. “The children went for years with no preparation. This year, schools were closed for three weeks [for construction and

rehabilitation]. If children succeed, it’s not because of DCPS.”

Two test experts affirm Williams’ contention. They say that the District’s campaign against social promotion is based on a flawed premise. “Retention in grade doesn’t work,” says Jerry Bracey, an independent education researcher from Alexandria.

Bracey, a retired chief assessment officer for Virginia schools, just completed a survey of recent research across the nation that compares academic retention with social promotion. His findings: Since 1989, when a pioneering book called Flunking Grades condemned retention as being harmful to children, only one study has shown any advantage to repeating grades. That study, by Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, found that only first-graders benefited—and only because in the Baltimore School District so many had to repeat the grade that no one felt stigmatized, Bracey says.

Apart from retention’s dubious merits, standardized test scores are not an accurate measure of pupils’ progress, according to both Bracey and Bob Schaeffer, executive director of the Boston advocacy group FairTest. The tests compress excerpts of educational materials and curricula from many different school districts into such a small number of questions that they cannot accurately gauge everything a single child has been taught about a subject. A wrong answer does not necessarily mean that the student doesn’t understand a concept or hasn’t mastered a skill, Bracey says.

The Stanford 9 does measure student progress on topics that students are expected to master in a given grade. But, again, there are so few test questions—35 per section—that the scores give a distorted picture of a student’s achievements. The difference between Below Basic and Basic can depend on one answer. “To use these tests as the sole or even the primary criteria in making high-stakes decisions like graduation or promotion is a straight forward abuse of the test design and the standards of measurement,” says Schaeffer.

Practicing for a test is not learning, Schaeffer and Bracey say, and the schools that need to spend the most time teaching are the same ones that drill for the exam because their test scores are low. At Noyes, where a majority of students are disadvantaged, for example, test review consumed most of the school day for a good month before the exam. Conversely, at schools in more affluent neighborhoods, such as Oyster Elementary and Murch Elementary, students spent most of their time during the month before the exam expanding their knowledge of science, social science, and literature. “To assume that simply drilling to artificially boost their test scores without attending to everything else children need is ignoring the real problems,” Bracey laments.

For Shantell, school has always posed problems, says her mother, Margaret, as she folds the laundry while tracing the child’s history. She attended three different elementary schools before the second grade. That year, Margaret, 32, a toy store manager, moved in with her fiancé, Eric, 36, a firefighter, and his two children. When the girl finally alighted at Noyes, she had a hard time sitting still. Her older stepsister, Lauren, who also attended Noyes, distinguished herself as a top student and athlete. Almost immediately, teachers found Shantell more challenging. “She’s very blunt,” Margaret observes. “She will argue if she thinks she’s right, no matter how far in left field she is.”

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Talented and self-assured instructors can handle Shantell, Margaret believes. But others have proven disastrous. In an attempt to help her daughter learn self-control, when Shantell reached the third grade, Margaret prepared a behavior report and asked the instructor to fill it out each day. But Margaret believes Shantell’s teacher that year used it as a tool to intimidate her, rather than an instrument to improve her behavior. He told her she was “dumb and couldn’t learn,” and Shantell made little progress in mastering her own feelings and expressions, Margaret says.

The girl’s fourth-grade teacher succeeded where the third-grade instructor had failed. When Shantell misbehaved, the fourth-grade teacher telephoned her mother, demonstrating to the girl that her actions would have real consequences. As a result, she was able to acquire fourth-grade skills. In fifth grade, Shantell regressed. “Everything she learned in the fourth grade, she lost in the fifth,” Margaret asserts. “Now, we’re fighting to get it back.”

The fifth-grade teacher, Geraldine Herbin, a 24-year veteran, had just completed a frustrating year fighting overwhelming discipline problems when Shantell entered her classroom. Herbin prides herself on her ability to communicate on the students’ level, and when they talk or act rowdy in class, she says, she stops her lesson until they compose themselves. When that doesn’t work, she ends up scolding them. Three parents, two of whom declined to be named, say this method does not give their children enough structure to learn how to keep quiet and focused on work. Shantell, for example, needs very clearly defined objectives and assignments, her mother says.

Margaret kept close tabs on Shantell, but she couldn’t be in school every day, and she only recently learned that Herbin could not control her. “Shantell spent most of the fifth grade in the hall,” Margaret complains. “My thing was, that if she was such a poor student—I frequently was at the school [during events, conferences, and at other times], and a lot of teachers knew who I was—why didn’t they tell me my daughter was out in the hall?”

When Shantell landed in Long’s sixth-grade class, she was one of many who needed an in-depth review. “When I have to spend until December working on third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade skills, when am I going to teach my sixth-grade skills?” Long queries wearily.

Nevertheless, Shantell is making gains, according to Margaret, chiefly because Long will neither allow her to move around nor throw her out of class when she misbehaves. The fourth-grade teacher also is helping Shantell prepare for the test by drilling her on fourth- and fifth-grade material. At home, Eric spends many of his evenings tutoring Shantell. Yet like so many other of Long’s students, she has difficulty with mathematics.

The Stanford 9 probes math reasoning skills through complex story problems. But teachers comfortable with teaching simple computation resist using the curriculum that supports the new skills. Long is one of those teachers. Though DCPS has supplied her with a text that focuses on math reasoning, she rarely uses it. The book lacks sufficient practice exercises for students she believes still don’t understand the basics. “I don’t like the new book,” she says. “If you ask most of the teachers in the district, they’ll tell you they don’t like it. It’s too much pictures.”

Long gets no assistance teaching math, either. Noyes employed an instructor in 1996-97 who focused solely on teaching the subject, but the position was cut out of the budget for the 1997-98 school year.

The school also lost another staff member who could have helped boost the students’ learning and their test scores. The reading teacher has been out of work on disability, and a volunteer has replaced her. The 90-minute DEAR program has been jettisoned as test preparation has consumed the school day.

Although Margaret accepts responsibility for her child’s learning—and lack of it—she also believes that Noyes has shortchanged Shantell. Now the girl is anxious to graduate and go on to middle school—but Margaret is reluctant to make plans for her or even to purchase a graduation dress. “This is the time when Shantell is getting into adolescence—it’s an exciting time,” Margaret reflects. “It will be devastating to her if she fails.”

Johnnie won’t brook failure, either. It doesn’t fit with his tough-guy image. Already he has repeated an earlier grade, and now he’s itching to move on. “He is looking forward to graduating,” says his mother, Theresa. Her son adds: “I want to go to Shaw [Junior High]. That’s where all the girls are.”

Johnnie and his 15-year-old sister Raneka spend many of their weekdays with their mother in a dimly lit apartment in Brookland Manor, a privately owned low-income housing complex. On an afternoon in late May, Raneka wears shorts and a sleeveless T-shirt, and she heads for her mother’s room, where the TV blares a soap opera. Her junior high school principal has suspended her after a conflict with another student, and now television occupies her.

Theresa has been busy all morning, however. A black plastic bag, swollen with trash, rests against the wall next to the apartment door in a spotless front room. She relaxes on the couch to consider the turmoil the children have undergone in school the past year and contemplate Johnnie’s work on the test. A Christmas garland is draped along the window behind her.

Theresa can’t remember whether her son began studying for the Stanford 9 before or after that holiday. She has attended none of the classes the PTA offered to show parents how to help their children prepare for the test. She can’t say whether the math or the reading portions have given him the most challenge.

Theresa does anguish over her children’s trouble in school, because she recognizes its origins: In September 1996, they watched a stranger kill their father in front of their Anacostia home. “We were all sitting outside, and their father was having a dispute,” Theresa recounts. “A guy just walked up and started shooting.”

His father’s death left Johnnie with no one to help him draw portraits. “He gave me a pencil and he showed me how to bring the arm back [so that it looks farther away than the torso],” Johnnie recalls. “He showed me how to make people’s feet look like they’re standing.”

After the shooting, Theresa stopped attending a computer training course and started collecting welfare. She moved her family from their old neighborhood and enrolled her children in Noyes and Terrell Junior High. Theresa shares the grief that slows her children. But she decided against accepting the free psychological services available to crime victims. “[Johnnie and Raneka] said they didn’t want counseling,”she says. “They were trying to adapt to the neighborhood, to fit in.”

Johnnie made few friends that first year in Noyes because he expressed himself so rarely. But this past year, Long had to move his desk away from other children to keep him from leading them in pranks. Long says she has had no trouble with the boy since. But Johnnie often annoys the custodian, the gym teacher, and the principal, Long says. Suspension follows suspension.

Shannon, the counselor, believes that Johnnie has problems relating to male authority figures;

by calling him to her office for consultations, she tries to build a buffer between him and the men

he irritates. Johnnie and Shannon can talk for a whole hour. “I just go there to get away from class,”

he claims.

A half-dozen of Johnnie’s drawings adorn Shannon’s bulletin board. The school has no art teacher to help him develop this talent. Shannon says that she and the teachers want to help him get into a school that specializes in art, but they haven’t made any specific efforts in that direction. She has advised him to take art classes, but Theresa knows of none in the neighborhood, and Shannon has not helped them locate any. Johnnie says he has begun to provoke the counselor by drawing Satanic symbols and portraits with blood in them. One of his favorite shirts bears the image of a rose-colored demon against a black background, and that too has offended the counselor. “She stopped having me in,” he says.

Theresa hasn’t told Shannon or Long about Johnnie’s father’s death, and the school hasn’t probed the causes of his misbehavior. Instead, Theresa has tried to counsel her children on her own. “I talk to them all of the time, about everything,” she says. “I tell them [the shooting] was something wrong that someone did, and I ask them to pray and to try to do right.”

But Theresa’s children are entitled to assistance by school officials, and she doesn’t even know it. Beth Goodman, a lawyer who is suing DCPS to secure legally mandated services for special education students, says that the school has a moral obligation and possibly a legal responsibility to try to find out what motivates Johnnie’s chronic suspensions. “Any child of that age who is getting suspended repeatedly has some kind of a problem. I do not believe that children behave badly for the fun of it,” she says.

By the time school officials find out about the family’s unresolved crisis a month after the test is administered, Johnnie has missed precious weeks of instruction and test preparation time under suspension. Long blames Shannon for failing to address the boy’s needs. Shannon blames Johnnie’s mother. The principal simply registers shock. It’s as if he has given up. “What kind of role models are in place so this child can have a feeling of hope, of future?” Principal Isaac “Ike” Jackson muses. “You’re talking about children who are, in a sense, lost.”

Shantell’s stepfather, Eric, tucks her into bed early—at 8 p.m.—on the night before the test. But she can’t sleep, and an hour passes. “I was kind of afraid that I wouldn’t pass,” she admits later. “I kept praying and praying and praying that I would not forget the things Mrs. Long told me.”

The row house she shares with her mother, stepfather, and stepsiblings looks different on this morning. Not that anything has changed—the simple olive green loveseat is backed against the wall, the couch near the window. The wood floor needs a bit of shine. But everything feels different—as if she’ll get a spark of electricity if she touches anything.

Because Johnnie has been suspended, he’s barred from the exam. But Theresa arranges her braids carefully and dons her good clothes while Johnnie puts on his Wilson tank top. They head for the school, where her task, once again, is to appeal for her son. She asks the principal to just let him take the test—no matter how difficult it will be. Jackson agrees.

When Johnnie and Shantell arrive in the classroom they find the desks in rows. The school’s science instructor sits in the teacher’s seat, waiting to assist with instructions. Even Shantell’s chair has been pushed to the end of one of the lines. She tries to remember everything she’s been told—and sit quietly. As Long moves around the room, the girl turns her head to follow her. When the PA system blares, Shantell jerks in her seat. “This is it! This is the day!” Principal Jackson gleefully proclaims. “We’re ready. We’re prepared! On behalf of the administration, the students, and the staff, we wish you very good luck. Good luck, boys and girls, on the Stanford 9. Go get ’em, children—do your very best!”

Johnnie grins at the principal’s cheery pronouncements as Long and the school’s science teacher hand out the test forms. He leans back in his chair, assuming his customary nonchalance. But his fear shows when the teacher instructs the class to perform a sample test exercise. “You’re working on slow speed,” Long tells him. “You’ve got to work accurately, but you’ve got to work quickly.”

The sample complete, the test will begin. Now Long’s voice is comforting. “We’ve been preparing for this since October, haven’t we?” she soothes. “You know that Mrs. Long has been praying for you. I’m wearing my lucky watch.”

The week of June 8, when Shantell and Johnnie learn the results of their tests, Superintendent Arlene Ackerman meets with the board of trustees to brief them on the preliminary district results—she’s the only remaining one of a triumvirate of school officials who promoted the Stanford 9 testing program. Now she’s boasting of her successes. All across the city, reading scores have gone up three or four points; math scores also show slight progress. “We are very pleased to announce that we have made solid growth, as we prepare our numbers, from last spring to this spring,” Ackerman tells the trustees. “We started a year ago with a clear vision of making this district exemplary, and we’ve made solid progress.”

This spring, Ackerman held a series of citywide meetings to explain the test to parents and answer their queries. Many parents—and teachers, for that matter—believed that any student who failed to achieve a Basic in math or reading would be held back. But Ackerman explained that she had proposed promotion criteria back in January that reduced the exam’s overall impact on the student’s advancement in grade. The guidelines state that if students’ scores are at 75 percent of Basic and their class work is strong, the teacher can promote them after summer school. Even some who don’t score 75 percent can be promoted if they succeed in summer school; others who attend won’t advance.

“The test is [still] a primary factor in promotion,” explains Pat Anderson, the assessment expert Ackerman has asked to explain the test results to the trustees. Later, Anderson suggests that the students’ work will have primacy in the decision to promote: “The emphasis is on students’ class work. The major concern is: Are the students strong enough so that they will be successful in the next year? We don’t want them to fall farther behind than they are.”

Text experts say the scores still carry too much weight in promotion decisions and are not being applied as they should be—to understand students’ academic needs. But if Ackerman hasn’t used the tests as effective learning tools, she’s managed to employ them as powerful political instruments. The focus on scores and their subsequent slight increase have yielded financial benefits. Earlier this year, Hillary Rodham Clinton found some $10 million in federal funding for summer school to help advance student achievement. The slight peak in test scores substantiates the school district’s determination to follow through on that goal. Some 20,000 students are attending summer school—a number that has DCPS scrambling to accomodate.

Maudine Cooper, president of the Greater Washington Urban League, is the new chair of the board of trustees, which supervises Ackerman. Her delight is obvious: “This news of our test scores is one that we feel good about. This is what we’re here for—not buildings, though buildings are important. It’s wonderful news. There’s room for us to celebrate.”

Neither Cooper nor Ackerman mentions that test scores are always prone to rise slightly if the same children take the same type of exam more than once in a 12-month period. The District’s children have taken it twice; students in several grades have taken it three times. Says Bob Schaeffer of FairTest: “If you give the same test several times, even different versions of the same test, by the process of human nature—familiarization both by kids and by teachers—scores creep up.”

Teachers like Long receive the promotion guidelines only after the students have taken the test. Ten days before the sixth-grade graduation ceremony, Long doesn’t even know which students she should invite to march in it.

Long gets her class’s test scores on Monday, June 8. Nearly every student has improved upon his or her fall score. One student, Derica, has no score below Proficient, meaning that she has mastered the grade-level material. Her math reasoning score is advanced, and she ranks in the 99th percentile; in a group of 100 students, on average, only one would score higher. The relief shows in Long’s face as she heads to the auditorium to help supervise the sixth-grade graduation rehearsal.

But Long observes Shantell weeping. The girl scored Below Basic on all math sections in the test. The worst of her expectations have come true. Shantell fails to notice that she has not only met the basic reading requirements, she has also scored a Proficient—meaning that she has mastered her grade level—in vocabulary. Long makes the girl reconsider her scores. They won’t keep her from entering seventh grade, the teacher explains. “She’s going to make it,” the teacher cries as she approaches the auditorium.

Now Shantell walks with a lilt as she heads for graduation choir rehearsal. When the singers break, the girl pirouettes happily across the auditorium floor. No one disciplines her. “My parents are probably going to take me out and buy me a dress,” she says jubilantly. “I’ve got to have my hair done, my nails done.”

Despite her elation at the students’ achievement this spring, Long is concerned that they haven’t mastered sixth-grade skills. Even with the improvements, she says, the scores are disappointing. “What people don’t understand is that Basic is just satisfactory,” she points out. Additionally, she says, it’s not fair to even tell students that a test like this will be used as an instrument of promotion, unless they’ve studied the material for three or four years. “You have some children who are bright, focused, and have good study habits,” she explains. “Then you have children who have no support at home. When a child in fifth or sixth grade already has two or three years of deficiencies, you can’t expect them to score at a certain level.”

Johnnie’s mother has to walk to school the following day to pick up his test scores herself. A week after the boy took his exam, he and a friend carried a cap gun to school. It looked so real that it gave Long a fright when Johnnie pulled it out of his desk. Under DCPS rules, carrying any weapon, real or simulated, is a serious offense. Jackson had no choice but to expel him. Though the school will push Johnnie into seventh grade, he won’t be able to graduate with the class. But he did raise his reading scores to Basic.CP