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D.C. Schools Chancellor Talks Test Scores, Teacher Evaluations, And Next Year

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DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson says the "Hopes and Dreams" campaign, where residents are asked what DCPS should look like, is coming to an end.
Jennifer D. Cogswell (http://www.flickr.com/photos/cityyear/5735107577/)
DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson says the "Hopes and Dreams" campaign, where residents are asked what DCPS should look like, is coming to an end.

Explaining elementary achievement gap

During a press conference recently, Henderson said she was "excited" and "thrilled because students' test scores across the District have improved during the past five years.

But those statistics also show that during the past two years, elementary students' test scores have dropped by six percentage points. It's something Henderson admits the district has to work on.

"We have done a lot to ensure that teachers understand what we're looking for, but really the thing that is going to boost student achievement is around change to the curriculum and professional development," she says.

The elementary schools don't have a standardized curriculum, and DCPS officials are thinking that that could be the reason that test scores have suffered, Henderson says.

"They're all linked to the standards but with slightly different interpretations," Henderson says of the elementary schools' learning programs. "Overall that has hurt our ability to drive achievement at the elementary level." The district has been able to reach more achievement goals in the secondary level because those courses involve more "content expertise" from teachers than at the elementary level.

Teacher evaluations still under review

DCPS is implementing common core standards for elementary curricula that Henderson hopes will improve scores at both levels, but especially at the elementary level, she says. As for professional development, DCPS is still analyzing the results of teacher evaluations that were released last week.

Although more than 200 teachers were issued termination notices for receiving poor performance ratings on those evaluations, a lot of other data there -- including the fact that the percentage of teachers ranking "effective" or "highly effective" hasn't change -- is still being reviewed.

"I think we're trying to figure out exactly what happened," she says. "We understand that there can always be movement within the categories -- some people have great years, and have not so great years," she says. "But we've really only had the data for a few days."

Looking forward to next year

Moving achievement forward is Henderson's number one goal for the coming school year, she says. She's hoping technology will be a significant part of that. "I'm a little obsessed with technology right now, because I've watched tech advances help to leapfrog some of our students," she says.

"We're piloting some really innovative hybrid learning programs, especially around math, where students will be able to engage in interesting, game-like content, where you don't move on to the next skill until you've mastered this skill," she adds.

Using computers to help bring students that are behind up to their grade levels will allow teachers keep on track with the current grade's curriculum, Henderson says. "If we're able to remediate using the computer, then the teacher can really be responsible for the acceleration," she says. "It really allows for dealing with the kind of heterogeneity that we have in our classrooms in a very different way that hopefully will assist teachers, and not further complicate their work."

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