Zero stars for new DCPS rating system

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Zero stars for new DCPS rating system

Graphic by Pia Doran

Graphic by Pia Doran

Graphic by Pia Doran

Jamie Stewart-Aday

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The Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) recently unveiled a new system for evaluating schools, giving each DCPS school a score out of 100 and translating that to a score out of 5 stars. The system was intended to add transparency and provide help to the schools that need it. Instead, DCPS has once again failed its community by creating an over-complicated system that offers no new information while exacerbating decades-old problems within the District. And that’s ignoring the fact that the initial report published numerous inaccuracies about Wilson, including that we don’t offer AP classes or Dual Enrollment.

The Mayor’s office stated that the report “creates more transparency and gives families one more tool to use in choosing a public school in DC.” Had the data they collected been presented effectively, the report may have achieved these goals. Instead, the information is stored on a million different web pages within the labyrinth of the DCPS website and the DCPS report cards website, such that it is nearly impossible to find everything you’re looking for.

Beyond the difficulty of finding information, the school evaluations rely on an incredibly faulty formula. Most notably, PARCC scores are worth over 15 percent of each school’s overall score, more than any other metric. This is problematic because, as principal Kimberly Martin put it, “the only people that care about PARCC deeply are legislators. Students don’t care deeply, parents don’t care deeply—and teachers and administrators only care about it as part of their evaluations.” Without any student effort, it’s impossible for PARCC scores to be genuinely reflective of a school’s true quality.

The framework was also supposed to identify schools in need of assistance and provide them with aid. While the framework shows clearly which schools are struggling, this only serves to give us information we already know and further systemic class-based issues. Martin noted that almost everyone in DC could have predicted which schools would get which scores. “Every principal in this district, when we got together, we could’ve told you what our schools are going to be… just because it’s the same that it’s always been. Anybody who’s been doing this job for 5 minutes could tell you,” she said.

Instead of shedding new light on DC schools, the report perpetuates the notion that schools serving poor students are bad schools. Wards 7 and 8 produced 63 percent of one- and two-star schools, compared with no four- and five-star schools. In reality, those students and schools perform worse in large part because those students face much bigger challenges.  

OSSE would argue that it’s worthwhile to acknowledge that these schools are failing because it gives them access to money allocated to improve their schools. This is also technically true — the bottom five percent of schools will receive $1 million over three years—but this is only a band-aid solution to very complicated problems. Although around $300 thousand per year for three years sounds like a lot, it is not enough to make any serious change. “The cost of a teacher in the budget right now is $116,000, so $300,000 for one high school maybe could buy two teachers,” said Martin.

The STAR framework comes from a good place, but it needs to be reworked such that the methodology accurately reflects what makes a school great, the information is presented in a clear and accessible way, and the solutions for underperforming schools are complex and substantial.