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

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.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.
  • 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.