More than 40,000 students in the D.C. public schools (DCPS) last May put their sharpened pencils to work on the Stanford 9 Assessment Test, a major national standardized exam. Six months later, the school system released test results confirming what the city already knew: DCPS sucks. In 28 of 40 schools, more than 80 percent of the test takers scored below their grade level in math. The failure rate in math exceeded 90 percent in 21 schools, and two vocational schools registered a clean 100 percent of underperforming pupils.
The lesson? DCPS’s efforts to improve student performance aren’t adding up. But don’t expect the school system’s math teachers to embark on a period of soul-searching. The problem, they say, is colleagues who won’t teach, parents who don’t care, and students who are too far behind. In a random Washington City Paper survey, DCPS math teachers explain and excuse the test scores in their own words.
It’s the Test. “I don’t really think [the test is] a true measure of the ability of these children,” says Yvonne Morris, a ninth-grade math teacher at Cardozo Senior High School. Morris says her students were expecting more straightforward math problems. Of 138 Cardozo students tested, 99.3 percent scored below the basic level for their grade.
Says Cynthia Scott, who teaches math at Eastern High School, “It was a new testbrand newand we didn’t have the standard [guide] to go by to prepare our students for the test. These students took the test cold,” says Scott. “It certainly did not reflect the performance of our students, nor their ability. Of course, some of our kids are below basic. But some of our kids taking advanced courses scored way below where they should be.”
It’s Their Rotten Grade-School Teachers. “A lot of these students are coming to secondary schools without the most basic skills: arithmetic skills, subtraction skills, times tables,” says Felicia Motley, a seventh-grade math teacher at Hart Middle School on Mississippi Avenue SE. “There are too many kids adding on their fingers. Somewhere along the way they have let [students] by without developing those skills.” At Hart, 92.3 percent of the 297 youngsters tested below basic levels in math.
It’s the Parents. Twelfth-grade Cardozo math teacher Charles Allen says many students are used to blowing off schoolwork without consequence. “Their parents don’t make them learn,” he says.
It’s the Students. “It’s rather difficult to get students involved in things they don’t want to do or don’t understand,” says Motley.
All of the Above. “On these tests, the children will put anything down,” says Morris. “They don’t take it seriously. They don’t see the benefit for themselves. ‘It doesn’t affect my life. I know what I’m going to be doing.’”
“They hear shooting and gunshots at night in the community,” adds Morris.
However, one DCPS employee knows where the blame lies. “We’re not looking at it as if the kids are the ones who failed,” says Doug Rogers. “We’re the ones who failed the kids. We owe it to them.” Rogers, the only one who isn’t spinning, is the school system’s PR guy. CP