Committee of the Whole Performance Oversight Hearing: Literacy and the NAEP and PARCC Assessments

Testimony

Jessica Giles 

State Director 

Education Reform Now D.C.

December 7, 2022 

Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson, members, and staff of the Committee of the Whole; my name is Jessica Giles. I am a Ward Seven resident and the State Director of Education Reform Now D.C., a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system for all D.C. students. With limited time here, I am providing testimony on improving PARCC, NAEP, and academic achievement in the District of Columbia. My colleague Joshua Hodge will recommend ways to improve literacy. 

D.C. NEEDS A BOLD VISION FOR EDUCATIONAL EXCELLENCE. Either we believe all students can learn, and we set high standards for them, and schools, or we do not, and we keep getting the same results – or worse – year after year. A bold vision for educational excellence means the District must: 

  1. Assess student learning across the District of Columbia; 
  2. Equip families with timely, relevant, easily understandable, and actionable information about these assessments; and 
  3. Hold our schools accountable for ensuring every student receives a high-quality education. 

(FIRST) We must assess student learning across the District of Columbia. Why is the PARCC and NAEP exam important? 

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam provides key information about how D.C. students are performing against grade-level academic standards. The PARCC exam is specifically designed to measure whether D.C. students are reading and doing math on grade level, and it is the only assessment we have to compare the academic achievement of students across D.C. Public Schools and public charter schools. Knowing how students are performing toward grade-level standards helps everyone understand where schools and students are excelling, and where they are not so we can identify struggling schools and drive additional support to them. The PARCC exam can also give families a fuller understanding of their child’s academic performance beyond grades which is critical for ensuring students are on track for graduation, identifying potential areas for growth, and advocating for any needed academic supports.

On the otherhand, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the Nation’s report card, is the largest continuing and nationally representative exam. It is considered the “gold standard” of exams because it provides “high level of academic rigor” and acts as a “neutral referee” in comparing states to one another.1 More often than not, states vary widely in how closely their proficiency rates on state tests track with those on NAEP. This is called the “honesty gap.” D.C. has a very small honesty gap, which is a good sign of academic rigor. For example in 4th grade reading, there is a 4% honesty gap (PARCC – 30%, NAEP 26%). Only two states have a smaller honesty gap.2In 4th grade math, D.C. has a 1% honesty gap. Only one other state has a smaller honesty gap, at zero.3 

(SECOND) We must equip families with timely, relevant, easily understandable, and actionable information about these assessments. 

How can OSSE ensure the PARCC exam is timely and relevant? 

While the PARCC exam is not designed to directly influence educators’ daily practice, the District can provide initial results sooner to schools, district leaders, and educators in early summer to allow results to influence plans for the coming year. Parents need scores early so they can advocate for their learners. For example, when parents receive comparable statewide data earlier it allows them the opportunity to evaluate whether or not their student is being served which could lead to school choice decisions or early advocacy with new classroom teachers. 

How can OSSE release data earlier? 

If D.C. is considering revisiting RFP language or is open to a contract amendment following the RFP decision, the following should be included: 

  • Test earlier. OSSE administered the PARCC exam in April/May this year. D.C. could commit to testing earlier (a few weeks) to ensure reports come back before the end of the year. Design decisions can be made to where schools volunteer for early testing so initial analyses for the review process can be run with a sample to speed up that part of the process. 
  • Ensure timeliness of reports. This can be assigned points and prioritized through the overall weight of the points in the RFP scoring process. Any time after August should be seen as unacceptable. Vendor penalties can be written into the contract to double down on prioritizing the timeliness of reports. 

1 The 74 Million. “To Improve the Nation’s Schools, First Close the Honesty Gap” November 15, 2022. Source: https://www.the74million.org/article/to-improve-the-nations-schools-first-close-the-honesty-gap/2 Future Ed. “What the Pandemic Did to NAEP, State Standardized Test Scores.” October 24, 2022. Source: https://www.future-ed.org/state-standardized-test-scores/ 

3Ibid. 

  • Compile school accountability results later in the process. Multiple states wait to publicly release data until they’ve compiled school accountability results, but this is a policy decision that adds more time between testing and parents getting results. 

How can OSSE ensure the PARCC exam results are accessible and actionable? 

Currently, it is unclear if families are receiving their PARCC exam results, and if they are it is also unclear whether they are given guidance to understand what the results mean or take action on them. OSSE must proactively release PARCC exam results to every family, and provide resources to families for understanding their child’s score and what to do about it. For the last two election cycles, the D.C. Board of Elections ensured every registered D.C. voter received their ballot before the election, and provided detailed instructions on how to vote by mail, drop box, or in person. There is no reason why we can’t apply this same 

strategy and practice in public education to all assessments, including MAP, iReady, and DIBELS. 

(THIRD) We must hold our schools accountable for ensuring every student receives a high-quality education. 

Student PARCC and NAEP scores plummeted in English Language Arts/Reading and Math and opportunity gaps widened.45 Much of this decline was predicted due to the pandemic. Still, there were schools who made leaps and those who sunk. 

  1. The District needs to share lessons-learned from the pandemic6 and transparently scale solutions for schools that are struggling. 
  2. Deepen engagement with families to improve student attendance. 3. Implement a city-wide plan that eliminates systemic inequities for students with disabilities. 
  3. Require all K-5 educators to be trained in the science of reading. 

Educational excellence requires political courage, the innate belief that every student can learn, and the commitment to treat parents as partners. Only then will we be able to ensure students can reach their full potential in the District of Columbia. 

4 See EmpowerK12’s 2022 PARCC/MSAA Assessment Dashboard for a helpful illustration of scores. Resource: https://www.empowerk12.org/data-dashboard-source/D.C.-parcc-dash

5 See EmpowerK12’s D.C. NAEP Dashboard for a helpful illustration of scores. Resource: https://www.empowerk12.org/data-dashboard-source/D.C.-naep-dash 

6 14 elementary, middle, and high Bold Performance Schools with at least 30% or more students designated as “at-risk” are boldly supporting their priority students to reach academic success. Study the six key strategies to achieve their success, and scale across the city. Source: 

https://www.empowerk12.org/research-source/2022-bold-performance-report#:~:text=Bold%20Performan ce%20Schools%20are%20the,color%20%E2%80%94%20to%20reach%20academic%20success.

Committee of the Whole Performance Oversight Hearing: Literacy and the NAEP and PARCC Assessments

Testimony

Joshua Hodge

Policy and Communications Manager 

Education Reform Now DC

 

December 7, 2022

Hello, and good morning Chairperson Mendelson and the Committee of the Whole, my name is Joshua Hodge. I am the Policy and Communications Manager at Education Reform Now DC (ERN DC) and I am a Ward 6 resident. ERN D.C. is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system for all students. I am testifying to continue to elevate the need for additional literacy support and resources for all students, and to advocate for the following: parent and guardian access to assessments results along with a clear explanation of what their student’s scores mean; public transparency around the new literacy task force; and the adoption of the following recommendations given to us by members of our community and during the ‘Right To Read Literacy Conference’ hosted in October, which we are extremely grateful yourself Chairman Mendelson and Councilmember Pinto were able to speak at, on behalf of ERN DC.

The continued elevation of the importance of student literacy:

Ensuring strong student literacy outcomes in DC is one of the most important issues facing our great city. A child’s ability to read directly impacts their future educational goals, attainment of a livable income, and overall quality of life. While public schools in D.C. have made progress in fourth-grade reading over the last decade, currently, about 70 percent of fourth-graders in D.C. scored below proficiency levels on the National Assessment of Educational Progress 2022 exam, known as NAEP. These numbers are grim and further highlight the need to implement literacy instruction grounded in the science of reading. For those of you who do not know the science of reading is an evidence-based reading practice that emphasizes highly explicit and systematic teaching of all important components of literacy. These components include both foundational skills (decoding, spelling) and higher-level literacy skills (reading comprehension, written expression). The effects of low student literacy rates are felt not only throughout k-12 public education but also in college readiness and college competition rates. According to the DC Policy Center,¹ out of every 100 DC public school students who began ninth-grade in 2014-15 and were in the graduating high school class cohort of 2017-18, only 14 students will complete a postsecondary degree within six years of high school graduation. These same graduates without a postsecondary degree can expect to earn an estimated $15,000 a year in their first years after high school. Which is significantly under the DC average income. 

That is why we support the Implementation of the “Addressing Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties Amendment Act of 2020” and Improving upon the FY2023 Budget Support Act Subtitle, “Structured Literacy Training Action Plan”. We believe it is critically important for all K-5 educators to be trained in the science of reading, parents to receive their students test scores and understand what their scores entail, and for there to be transparency in the new literacy task force. We also know that we have more work to do in this area. We along with Decoding Dyslexia DC, DC Special Education Cooperative, and DC Charter School Alliance worked together on several ways to strengthen efforts in the coming days.

 

Recommendations for Improving Literacy in the District of Columbia 

Implementation of the “Addressing Dyslexia and Other Reading Difficulties Amendment Act of 2020”

  1. OSSE must ensure trainings, tools, and guidance are appropriate for English Learners students.

Improving Upon FY2023 Budget Support Act Subtitle, “Structured Literacy Training Action Plan”

Building a Pipeline of Reading Coaches

  1. OSSE must train educators to become reading coaches and pay them for their expertise. The Washington Teachers Union may be a valuable partner in this effort. 
  2. The District must work with local universities to offer free Masters degree in Reading and Special Education.

Empowering Families to Take Action

  1. OSSE must ensure all parents and guardians receive and understand all of their children’s assessment results in a timely fashion so they are equipped to support their learners. These assessments include but are not limited to PARCC (statewide annual assessment), NAEP (nation’s report card), DIBELS (reading skills exam), MAP, and iReady.

  2. OSSE must provide annual citywide trainings so that families can better understand their student’s assessment data, co-create an action plan to support students’ growth, and can hold their educators and schools accountable. These trainings should also provide guidance and/or turnkey materials to LEAs so they can provide trainings, supports, discussions about next steps at the school level.

  3. Parents and guardians have a right to ask for a free evaluation or assessment of their children’s reading ability. OSSE must make information about how to access the assessment process available online.

Improving Transparency

  1. OSSE’s must publish on its website a calendar for implementation so the public can understand what the District is doing at every step in the process and are aware of opportunities to engage.

 

  1. OSSE must ensure the newly created Early Literacy Education Task Force (“Taskforce”) is transparent by publicizing on its website the members of the taskforce as well as the literacy education report.

In closing, District leaders have an opportunity to deepen investments in literacy and create transparency with the community on what is being done to ensure students are able to read. Presenting the chance to create a public education system here in DC that is more just and equitable for all DC learners and their families. Thank you to the Committee for the Whole for allowing me to testify today.

DC Council, Committee of the Whole Public Oversight Hearing on Attendance, Chronic Absenteeism, and Truancy in the District 

Testimony

DC Council, Committee of the Whole 

Public Oversight Hearing

Attendance, Chronic Absenteeism, and Truancy in the District 

Community Organizer, Minetre Martin

Education Reform Now DC 

Good afternoon Chairman Mendelson, Councilmembers, and staff of the Committee of the Whole. My name is Minetre Martin. I am a ward four resident, former classroom teacher, and a Community Organizer for Education Reform Now DC. (“ERN DC”). ERN D.C. is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system for all students.

Recent attendance data has shown an increase in chronic absenteeism since the pandemic. Though the increase was primarily due to excused absences related to Covid, areas that were present pre-pandemic still persist. For example, middle school students, high school students, students designated as at-risk, and students of color still show high rates of chronic absenteeism. Additionally, the Office of State Superintendent’s (OSSE) teacher and principal retention report highlights the correlation between school leadership and student attendance.

These reports are devastating and based on conversations with parents, students, and community advocates, I can attest to the impact of this data. In my previous testimony, I recounted the story of one parent who was reported to (CFSA) the D.C. Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA) after a substitute teacher confused their child with another student. Additionally, a second parent disclosed to me the trauma their child experienced around attendance after being attacked by a group of students, first on school grounds and later after being followed to their residence. A third parent reported that their child was terrified of the behaviors of students experiencing mental health issues. In a more recent conversation, a student at a public school in D.C. affirmed that the school environment, mental health issues, the absence of teachers, and students’ behavior make getting up for school more difficult. Attendance advocates also pointed out the lack of resource allocation for 7th and 8th grade students and families, which has often resulted in students dropping out by 9th grade. None of these stories are okay. We all have a duty to be relentless in maintaining families’ trust and that includes keeping students safe and in school.

How are we addressing this data? 

As a community, under the guidance of the Deputy Mayor or Education (DM), OSSE, and the State Board of Education (SBOE), and partner programs, we have worked to shift from the “80/20 rule” to the “60/40 rule,“, improved safe passage for students, fund programs to provide technology that nudges schools and parents about their child’s attendance, and more.  But we must not stop there. We must ask: How can we make school more meaningful for students? We offer one overarching solution and four ways to achieve that goal.

Reimagine how we make school more joyful and meaningful for students

Recently, two 8th-grade students, an attendance counselor, and a community partner coordinator were individually interviewed by me about attendance. One student had nearly perfect attendance while the other student’s attendance was unsatisfactory prior to this school year. When asked what the one thing that motivated them to attend school was, they both stated “knowing the importance of education and the role it plays in my future.” Additionally, both adults said their most effective conversations were about why school attendance was important for the students’ future. 

Based on students, parents, and educators, we believe that helping students comprehend the significance of education in their life is the first step to making school more joyful and meaningful

 Achieving the Goal 

  • Continuing to aggressively invest in safe passage and other safety efforts 

On Tuesday, November 28, 2022, Jakhi Snider became the 18th person under 18 to be shot and killed in D.C. this year. Additionally, since 2020, the number of youth suffering from car incidents have increased as well. We can no longer wait for another child to die while waiting for the D.C. Council to take action. The time is now, and we strongly urge you all to take aggressive action towards investing in safe passage effort. A good first step would be to approve amendments to the Safe Routes to School Act.

  • Address the mental health crisis

Investment in the Behavioral Health’s school-based behavioral health program (SBBH) is as important as ever, as the behavioral health crisis our children are experiencing continues to grow. In D.C., the rates of children and teens with anxiety or depression in 2020 were the highest in the previous five years of data (11.7% children). Among D.C. high schoolers, 17% reported a suicide attempt, compared to about 7.4% nationally. As of 2020, 48.7% of D.C. youth with Major Depressive Disorder (MDE) did not receive mental health services.

To increase attendance rates, we must prioritize students’ mental health challenges and social and emotional needs. With investments that raise the at-risk weight of the uniform per student funding formula, schools are better situated to provide critical services that increase their capacity for supporting students with chronic absenteeism. To ensure every school has a clinician, the D.C. Council should continue to invest in the SBBH program to:

  • Build a pipeline of mental health providers. 
  • Maintain stable funding for SBBH, including robust grants to Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) – adjusted for inflation – so that every school has a clinician;
  • Expand information-sharing and family engagement efforts by directing DC education agencies and LEAs to make the implementation of SBBH a top priority and providing any necessary resources; and
  • Ensure inclusive and actionable data collection and program evaluation by providing the resources needed to bring all stakeholders into these processes.

  • Take advantage of the multimillion-dollar investment from XQ-DC Institute to reimagine high school and to help improve attendance

In SY 23-24, XQ-DC will be partnering with two schools in D.C. to help them dream big about what high school could be, turn their innovative ideas into action, and create a more rigorous and equitable school. It would be unfortunate if we didn’t take advantage of this opportunity to prioritize what attendance could look like at all schools in the District. XQ mentions in a number of articles that school attendance has been a major factor in remaining high school. We highly recommend Chancellor Ferebee use this opportunity to ensure that our two pilot schools prioritize improving attendance in their plans.

  • Consider incentivizing 7th and 8th students financially for attending class and doing well in school.

Education is the primary work of young people. DC has tried many strategies to increase school attendance, but incentivizing students had not been considered as a quality solution.  

​​In 2008, D.C. paid 6th-8th grade students for a combination of attendance, behavior, and academics through private funding via participation in a study from Allan and Fryer (2011). The intervention distributed $3.8M in D.C., paying students up to $100 every two weeks, or up to $1500 for the year. While the intervention in D.C. was not associated with statistically significant gains on the state assessment, it was successful in getting students to school. After many disruptions in school, D.C. may want to explore incentivizing students and families in DC in raising attendance at a critical time of year.

While there are several ways we can continue to improve attendance, we believe that reimagining how to make school more meaningful again will move us all closer to closing the attendance, and eventually the opportunity gap. 

My previous testimony related to school attendance can be found here. Thank you for your time and consideration.

Student Service Hours – D.C. State Board Of Education October Monthly Meeting

Testimony

Joshua Hodge

Policy and Communications Manager 

Education Reform Now DC

October 25, 2022 

Thank you President Sutter, Vice President Thompson, and Representatives of the D.C. State Board of Education. My name is Joshua Hodge, and I am a Ward 6 resident and public education advocate. I am submitting this written testimony on behalf of Education Reform Now D.C. (ERN D.C.) on the proposed changes to the high school student service hours requirement for all D.C. public school students. For those who may be unfamiliar with our work, ERN D.C. is a non-profit organization fighting for a just and equitable public education system in Washington, D.C. 

 

Currently, students are required to complete 100 hours of volunteer community service to graduate. The local education agency establishes the specific community service projects as well. During the pandemic, these service hours were waived. Now, the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) proposes the hours be gradually increased in increments of 25 over the next four years back to 100 hours, from 25 in 2023 to 100 service hours in 2026, and to allow additional flexibility for transfer students. 

 

While we welcome a change to the student service hours requirement, we believe that OSSE’s proposal can be strengthened to better meet the needs of our students. We recommend capping the total number of hours required for graduation from 100 to 50 and allowing students to earn compensation for the service hours they work, and reimagining how students spend their time.


Cap the number of service hours to 50

The current number of service hours required is far too many for students, as some stakeholders have shared. With current Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) data showing a steep decline in English Language Arts and math scores this additional time could be spent on studying, participating in high-impact tutoring, or preparing for life after high school. Recent data from EmpowerK12 shows that “students designated as “at-risk” were an average of 15-18 instructional months behind pre-pandemic national averages, and more affluent students were only 4-5 instructional months behind.” They predict that DC will regain pre-pandemic 2019 achievement levels in 2027 – five years from now. Therefore, we believe the total number of service hours should be lowered to 25 hours in 2023 and capped at 50 hours in 2024 and beyond. This is aligned with the D.C. State Board of Education’s High School Graduation Requirements Task Force recommendation to reduce the number of service hours to 50 in 2017.

Allow students to be compensated

OSSE’s proposal currently bans activities for which students are compensated, which we disagree with. DCPS states that students must complete “community service hours through a 501(c)(3) organization or a federal, state, or local agency” to “ equip students with the necessary skills and abilities for career and educational advancement as well as motivate students to take an active role as leaders in their communities.” We believe these goals can still be achieved through community service that is compensated. D.C. students should have the opportunity to be compensated for their service projects when funding is available. Nearly 50% of D.C. students are designated “at-risk”. Completing 100 hours of unpaid service may not be feasible for students who need to financially support their families. I know from personal experience, growing up in an extremely low-income household any amount of time that I was not in school, studying, or playing baseball was spent working to help support my family. About 30% of high school students have jobs.  

Reimagining how students spend their time

Lastly, we would ask OSSE and the State Board of Education (SBOE) to think more creatively about how the District might use these extra hours to give students a meaningful and rewarding jumpstart on life after highschool. 

  • Dual Credit and Enrollment: Provide students with opportunities to receive high school and college credit for dual enrollment opportunities. The District has fallen out of step with other states who award both. 
  • Early Career Pathways: Incorporate extended Marion Berry Summer Youth Employment Programming (SYEP), internships, or apprenticeship opportunities.

The Covid-19 pandemic has been hard on everyone, but especially on our students and schools. The last two and a half years have changed the way our students learn. Because of this, we think it is best to modernize and reimagine our high school student service hour requirement to better reflect this change so that students receive a just, equitable, and high-quality public education. Thank you for allowing me to submit my testimony.