School & District Management

District of Columbia’s ‘Regular’ Schools Deliver Big Gains on Urban NAEP

By Lesli A. Maxwell — December 18, 2013 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Crossposted from Catherine Gewertz at Curriculum Matters.

Remember when the 4th and 8th grade NAEP results came in last month and the District of Columbia delivered some of the biggest gains in the country? One of the big questions hanging over the District then was this: Was its large and typically-better-performing charter school sector the big driver behind those gains?

Today’s results from Trial Urban District Assessment, reported by my colleague Lesli A. Maxwell, give us an answer: nope.

The reason that D.C.-watchers were waiting for the TUDA is that it includes only traditional public schools, not charter schools. If the those scores were significantly lower than those on the regular NAEP, it would suggest that the charters‐which can choose which students they serve‐had carried the gains.

That’s not what happened, however; the traditional D.C. schools topped the list of biggest improvements at both grade levels, in both math and English/language arts, of any of the 21 districts that participate as independent entities in that assessment.

Chancellor Kaya Henderson takes a victory lap in Lesli’s story, noting that the District has turned in poor results for so long that it was easy for lots of people to assume it couldn’t produce its own big gains.

The need for those improvements is painfully obvious, too. Any celebration is tempered by a look not at the gains, but at the scores themselves. D.C. students’ scores, like those of their urban peers nationally, are a proxy for their socioeconomic privilege.

But when a district like D.C. begins producing substantial gains, an irresistible series of questions follows, despite the statisticians’ warnings not to confuse correlation with causation. What produced the improvements? Did the demographic tilt toward a whiter, wealthier student population play a role? Did the city’s tough and controversial new teacher evaluation system have anything to do with it?

What about the district’s unusually intense embrace of the common core: did the related instructional units, professional development and school-based coaching (all documented in our four-part series, “A Steep Climb”) make a difference?

Unfortunately, D.C. is one of the few cities that has occasion to reflect on such questions, since it was one of the few that posted big gains on TUDA. That in itself is a troubling‐but troublingly unsurprising—sign of the gargantuan challenges that our big-city school districts face every day.

D.C. may be celebrating today, but I’m guessing the celebration will be short. Like most of the urban schools and administrative offices I’ve hung around in across the country, it is all too aware of its very long to-do list. Any minute now, it will put away the paper cups and get back to that long, steep climb.

A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.

Commenting has been disabled on effective Sept. 8. Please visit our FAQ section for more details. To get in touch with us visit our contact page, follow us on social media, or submit a Letter to the Editor.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Teaching Webinar
What’s Next for Teaching and Learning? Key Trends for the New School Year
The past 18 months changed the face of education forever, leaving teachers, students, and families to adapt to unprecedented challenges in teaching and learning. As we enter the third school year affected by the pandemic—and
Content provided by Instructure
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Curriculum Webinar
How Data and Digital Curriculum Can Drive Personalized Instruction
As we return from an abnormal year, it’s an educator’s top priority to make sure the lessons learned under adversity positively impact students during the new school year. Digital curriculum has emerged from the pandemic
Content provided by Kiddom
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Leadership for Racial Equity in Schools and Beyond
While the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal systemic racial disparities in educational opportunity, there are revelations to which we can and must respond. Through conscientious efforts, using an intentional focus on race, school leaders can
Content provided by Corwin

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School & District Management 10 Ways to Tackle Education's Urgent Challenges
As the school year gets underway, we ask hard questions about education’s biggest challenges and offer some solutions.
2 min read
Conceptual Image of schools preparing for the pandemic
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Reported Essay Principals Need Social-Emotional Support, Too
By overlooking the well-being of their school leaders, districts could limit how much their schools can flourish.
7 min read
Conceptual Illustration
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management From Our Research Center Educator Stress, Anti-Racism, and Pandemic Response: How You're Feeling
A new nationally representative survey offers key takeaways from teachers, principals, and district leaders.
EdWeek Research Center
1 min read
2021 BI COVER no text DATA crop
Pep Montserrat for Education Week
School & District Management Download 8 Tips for Building a Digital Learning Plan That Conquers Chaos
Craft flexible strategies, encourage experimentation with new instructional models, and regularly solicit feedback.
1 min read
onsr edtech tips