By Christina Henderson


Many of our children from low-income households are beginning school at a disadvantage. According to a report from the Brookings Institution, fewer than half (48 percent) of poor children are “school ready” at age five, compared to 75 percent of children from families with moderate and high income. School readiness is generally indicated by language development, cognition and general knowledge, approaches to learning, physical well-being, and social and emotional development. These early setbacks often times can continue to persist well throughout a student’s education.

Measuring student growth and annual progress has been an important component of our accountability systems, nationally, for almost 20 years. Public reporting of student growth provides a more accurate picture of school and educator effectiveness than just the static snapshot of annual proficiency rates because it takes into account where a student started academically.

For example, if Michael cannot recognize numbers or letters when he enters kindergarten, if by the time he enters fifth grade and has an average of a third grade reading level, is that significant progress? Is it an unrealistic expectation that he will be able to achieve an advanced mastery of the fifth grade content by the end of the school year? Michael’s teacher, however, is pretty confident that he can handle fourth grade content by the April test. As a result, Michael may score “Basic” on the DC CAS; but the untold story is where Michael started in kindergarten and how much he improved from last year relative to his academic peers.

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education has been calculating the median growth percentile (MGP) for each school based on the CAS scores for the last two years, as Ken Archer recently reported in an article for Greater Greater Education. The median growth percentile tells us how well a group of students are growing in comparison with other groups. Even more importantly, it helps us understand which schools are doing a great job with their kids, no matter how high or low their test scores were when they started, as well as which schools are not getting their students to progress at the rate of others. The DC Public Charter School Board already uses MGP in its Performance Management Framework which evaluates District charter schools.

Although, the MGP generally provides a much more accurate picture of how well a school is performing, the District’s current method of measuring performance drives parents toward evaluating schools, and therefore students, on static school-wide proficiency rates. The MGP data is hardly mentioned in news reports and is nearly non-existent on school profiles that parents use to evaluate if a school is the right fit for their child.  The school system should provide parents with more comprehensive information to help them make better choices upon entry into the school system and throughout the child’s public school experience. Parents that choose schools based on how well the school can help their children reach their highest potential, rather than the lowest measure of achievement will create a system the lifts each school and each child. As we all mull over the recently released 2013 DC CAS results, it’s important to ask: are the ratings by which we evaluate students and schools really telling the whole story?

*This post is part of an ongoing series of posts by Councilmember Grosso’s staff to support professional development. All posts are approved and endorsed by Councilmember Grosso.