DCPS terminates new School Without Walls admissions policy that promoted diversity

DCPS terminates new School Without Walls admissions policy that promoted diversity

Courtesy of School Without Walls

Anna Dueholm

In an effort to increase diversity at the selective School Without Walls High School (SWW), the school’s administration proposed a policy last fall that would allow the top 15 students of each middle school, in terms of GPA, to take the qualifying test. However, proper protocol was not followed, and as a result, the old policy will remain.

Typically, in order to be eligible to take the SWW admissions exam, a student must have a 3.0 GPA in seventh grade and have scored proficient on PARCC mathematics and reading standardized assessments. These restrictions help ensure the exam isn’t overcrowded and enough proctors are available to properly administer it. After completing the exam, prospective students and their families are interviewed by a panel of current SWW students before admission is granted. However, the standardized test requirement was re-instituted just this year, which increased diversity concerns within SWW administration.  

SWW has the lowest percentage of at-risk students of all DC traditional public high schools. At-risk students are classified as those with homeless families, those with families who receive food stamps, or those who are a year or more behind in school. While 46 percent of DCPS students are at-risk, only 12 percent of SWW students are.

Because lower-income and at-risk students have historically received lower PARCC test scores than their wealthier classmates, a policy that automatically qualified the 15 highest-ranked students of every middle school to take the test, regardless of PARCC scores, was quietly rolled out. “This change was made to allow more students to be eligible to take the SWW admissions test,” explained SWW Principal Richard Trogisch, “As a selective, highly competitive high school, we have to maintain high academic standards; our demographics tend to mirror the city in general. However, one of our concerns was to continue to maintain the numbers of minority and at-risk students in our celebrated diverse student body.”

SWW senior Tim Berger believes this policy could aid significantly in increasing the diversity of the school.”It eliminates much of the advantage NW students from schools like [Alice Deal Middle School] have with their PARCC scores,” he said, “the rule would even the playing field.”

School officials proceeded with the new policy throughout this school year, informing prospective students and parents of it at enrollment fairs, open houses, and the like. However, DC regulations require policy changes such as these to be documented in printed materials and on the DCPS website that provides admissions information. This step was bypassed for the change to SWW admissions by DC education officials, rendering the policy invalid.

A letter was sent out to the 226 families impacted by this policy in the beginning of February, informing them that the policy would not be implemented for the 2019-2020 school year and their students would therefore not automatically qualify to take the exam. “The policy was not allowed because DCPS did not send the change to the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) early enough to have OSSE publish the change so everyone in the District of Columbia was aware of the change, as required by DC Municipal Regulations,” Trogisch said.

Deputy Mayor for Education Paul Kihn released a statement, saying, “As soon as we discovered the mistake related to the School Without Walls admission process, we acted quickly to communicate with students and families; still, though, I regret any disappointment we may have caused.”

SWW will pursue the same policy again in the future. “We intend to recommend that the change is implemented, as proposed, next year if DCPS approves it,” Trogisch said.