When D.C. Public Schools (DCPS) Super intendent Franklin Smith got a look at the national reading scores for D.C.’s fourth graders in February, he was speechless. The shock apparently has not worn off. Smith still refuses to discuss how his students fared on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test—not even with school board members.

D.C. is the only one of the 43 participants—41 states, the District, and the U.S. Department of Defense Schools—that has shielded its scores from the public.

The NAEP, which tests fourth and eighth graders in math and reading, is considered the best of the national standardized tests. The U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics publishes a summary of results that is referred to as the “National Report Card.”

Smith’s decision to withhold D.C.’s records has forced the center to reprint its NAEP results and remove the District from the national comparisons. A center official said this was the first time in the National Report Card’s five-year history that a participant opted to keep test scores confidential. Pennsylvania state school officials sought to suppress their state’s scores following the 1992 NAEP test, but were overruled by Gov. Robert Casey.

Given DCPS’s poor record on the NAEP, it’s not surprising that Smith sought to conceal the 1994 results. In 1990, the first year the federally funded test was given, D.C.’s eighth graders took the math proficiency test. The District, which ranked highest in the nation in spending per pupil, ranked rock bottom in math scores. After the release of the scores in June 1991, a tidal wave of negative publicity and editorial criticism descended on D.C. schools. Local politicians vowed to make improvements.

By the second round of tests in 1992, D.C. fourth and eighth graders had improved in math, but not enough to climb out of last place. The city didn’t fare much better in reading skills: D.C.’s fourth graders tied California for last place.

The District’s small number of white fourth graders—5 percent of the entire fourth grade population—ranked as the best readers among white students in the nation. That fact received little attention when the test scores were released. But if the disparity between white students and others persists in the 1994 round of tests, criticism that the District runs an “apartheid” school system, a charge that flared up during last fall’s school board races, could increase.

Smith has drawn fire from some parents and school board members (notably at-large member Valencia Mohammed) who want to institute an Afrocentric curriculum. The superintendent has resisted the Afrocentric movement, pushing instead for tighter educational standards. He’s been trying—with exceedingly modest success—to scrap the schools’ current teaching methods, implemented during the ’70s to hike student scores, for more rigorous ones.

The superintendent is already struggling with one standardized test scandal—according to recent reports, teachers in at least two schools distributed test answers to students in advance. But DCPS officials and watchers speculate that Smith would rather risk criticism for withholding the NAEP test scores than release them to the public. The superintendent thinks it’s unfair to compare D.C. with states, an odd complaint for a city that constantly begs to be treated like a state. More important, he doesn’t want to supply the Newt Gingrich-led Republicans in Congress with more ammo to launch a takeover of D.C. schools.

In a wonderful example of doublespeak, DCPS spokeswoman Beverly Lofton says the superintendent wants to use the test results internally “to track how we can work with our students.” Next DCPS will conceal SAT scores in order to help students apply to college.

KING FOR LIFE

Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr. returned from his 10-day African sojourn all smiles last week after adding another sobriquet to his collection: King-for-Life. A beaming Barry announced at his May 12 news conference that during their visit to the Ivory Coast, he and Cora Masters Lady MacBarry took part in a ceremony in which they were crowned King and Queen of Sikensi. A lot of Washingtonians also would like to crown Barry for heading off on his African junket amid D.C.’s worst crisis in 20 years of home rule.

After his release from prison three years ago, Barry adopted the African name Anwar Amal at a ceremony at Union Temple Baptist Church in Anacostia. So now his full name is: Mayor-for-Life Marion S. Barry Jr./Anwar Amal/King Yede of Sikensi.

Try getting that on an envelope.

Never mind that the mayor of the Ivory Coast town of Sikensi told Washington Post reporter Jonathan Randal that Barry had merely been crowned a chief—an honor often bestowed upon visiting foreign dignitaries. LL has learned to trust Barry over the Post when it comes to matters of royalty and ceremony. If he says he was crowned a king, then he must be a king. Lady MacBarry certainly acts like a queen. Of course, she was acting like the Queen of D.C. long before she was crowned Sikensi’s Queen Hypo (pronounced “Yee-po,” just in case anyone draws the wrong idea about the meaning of her name).

While he was announcing his kingship (or chiefship, or whatever), Barry forgot to mention the responsibilities that accompany his new office. Sikensi has granted the King-for-Life two-and-a-half acres of land: Barry is expected to build a house upon it in return for the honor bestowed upon him. This is an agreement that should be familiar to Barry already. After all, he has made a practice of giving District land to real-estate tycoons in exchange for vague promises of future development.

King/Chief Yede is also expected, as part of his royal duties, to help his new realm come up with $130,000 for a new city hall—another fact that didn’t get revealed at last week’s news conference.

LL figures Barry was expecting a question from his favorite reporter, Tom Sherwood of WRC-TV Channel 4, to spring these details. But when the normally garrulous Sherwood failed to ask a single question—probably the most noteworthy development in an otherwise newsless news conference—the opportunity for full disclosure was lost. Had former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly jetted off to Africa the way Barry did, returning to face a mute Sherwood would have been beyond her wildest dreams.

Even without a heat-seeking Sherwood on his tail, Barry had to brush off those who say he left town during a crisis. The critics don’t know Webster’s like he knows Webster’s, Hizzoner told reporters. He defined “crisis” as “something that’s out of control, where you have no ability to bring it under control. But we moved past that.” Into what, LL wonders.

The mayor further suggested the African journey was critically important for the District’s economy. The ostensible purpose of the trip was for Barry to attend the third summit of African and African-American business and political leaders in Dakar, Senegal, and the mayor proclaimed that his presence would “maximize [D.C.’s] ability to garner a greater share of international business opportunities for District-based businesses.”

Now, most mayors wouldn’t go abroad seeking business opportunities for constituents and not take any local business executives along. But Barry has always had his own way of doing things. D.C. businessmen and -women had to travel to the summit as guests of U.S. Commerce Secretary Ron Brown, who represented President Bill Clinton at the conference.

The summit hardly monopolized Barry’s time. He left D.C. on Saturday, April 29, but didn’t show up at the conference until the following Wednesday. He marched in that day on Barry time—about a half-hour late—expecting to be seated onstage. But the dais was full of real heads of state. There was no room for the Barrys unless a president or prime minister got booted off. So Barry and Lady MacBarry took seats with Brown’s delegation in the audience. D.C. Secretary Marianne Coleman Niles and tourism director Ann Pina, who accompanied Barry on the trip, had to stand at the back of the room.

Despite the seating snub, all reports indicate that Barry was treated like a celebrity while in Senegal. He attracted more media attention over there than nearly every other visiting American dignitary, including Shadow Senator Jesse Jackson.

In fact, Barry spent most of last week’s news conference regaling reporters with tales of how he and Queen Hypo/Lady MacBarry had been treated like royalty everywhere they went. Besides the Sikensi crowning, other examples of red carpet treatment cited by Barry were:

An invitation to stay at the residence of the U.S. Ambassador to the Ivory Coast. “It’s very unusual that the ambassador would invite people to stay in his home,” Barry boasted. But senior U.S. foreign service officials say such offers are not uncommon.

A farewell dinner hosted by the mayor of Abidjan, capital city of the Ivory Coast. “Of such significance was our presence to the people of Abidjan [that] the U.S. Embassy provided our transportation and staff support for the delegation,” Barry said. Wow! Transportation and staff support.

A meeting with the president of Ghana “in his garden, for over an hour.” The get-together, the mayor said, “provided me with a historical overview of the development of the African economy.” There are videotapes and books that can also provide that, at much less expense.

The opportunity to address the city council in Accra, Ghana. LL assumes that Barry considered this speech much more important than meeting with his own D.C. Council.

POLITICAL POTPOURRI

D.C. Democrats can hardly be accused of being overenthusiastic about their new party chairman, former Washington Teachers Union President Bill Simons. At the Democratic State Committee‘s May 3 meeting, Simons ran for the chairmanship unopposed, but still couldn’t muster the majority of the 69 members he needed to win on the first ballot. He finally collected the votes he needed on the second ballot, after Mickey Mouse, a write-in candidate in the first round, withdrew.

The special election was held to fill the vacancy created when former party Chairman Eric Washington resigned to take a judgeship. Ward 5 party stalwart Bob Artisst, who badly wanted the chairmanship, apparently sensed defeat. He failed to show for the meeting.

The chairman of the party automatically takes a seat on the Democratic National Committee (DNC), but Simons also wants to keep his current post as the District’s national representative to the DNC. His power-hungry desire to hold down two of the District’s four seats on the DNC is not playing well with local party officials. Perhaps they’ll reconsider Simon’s election, hold a third ballot, and vote in Mickey as chairman….

May has been a bad month for Mark Thompson, founder and driving force behind the city’s newest political entity, the Umoja Party. First, Rahim Jenkins, the Umoja candidate in the Ward 8 special council election, only mustered only 3 percent of the vote in the May 2 balloting. Three days later, Thompson was jailed for 20 days for contempt of court. He had violated conditions of his parole, which require him to perform 50 hours of community service.

Thompson was convicted last year on charges stemming from his numerous arrests in statehood demonstrations. This week, his friends and supporters picketed on the steps of the federal courthouse to demand his release as a political prisoner.