September 30, 2013

A Note from Chancellor Henderson: Our Students Are Learning and Making Progress 

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September 30, 2013

Dear DCPS Community Member,

Over the past week, there have been a lot of questions related to the progress DCPS students are making.  This is a great opportunity for us to reflect on how we make sure that our students are learning. 

As a district, we have many ways to measure how our students are preforming.  Sure, we use standardized test scores, but we also look at student satisfaction, grades, graduation rates, and reading performance, just to name a few. 

All of these measures tell us the same thing.  We have made a ton of progress and we have lots of work left to do.  Fewer students are truant from school, but there are still too many truant children.  More 9th graders are passing to the 10th grade, but lots of them still need more help.  More of our students like their schools, but they still report challenges that no child should have to face.  Many of our students are able to really engage with books, but we can do more to help our students become strong critical readers, writers, and thinkers.

These measures are important because they help us recognize that we are on the right path and that we still have a long way to go.  This information led to a focus on engaging with literature at our schools, offering 9th grade academies at high schools, and investing in measures to make sure our kids are coming to school.

All that said, the most important assessment tool that I ever use is my own eyes.

I’m sure this is the same tool that you use when you measure your student’s progress.  You look at grades and you check in on the last DC CAS, but that isn’t what proves to you that your child is learning.  You are sure your daughter is meeting her full potential when you see her race home excitedly to show you the last project she completed.  You are confident your son’s reading is improving when you see him immerse himself in a book that he couldn’t read last month.  You monitor your student’s progress by watching her sit at the dinner table, after all the dishes were put away, to work through her math homework.  You and I know that the most important measure of a child’s success is the spark we see in his eyes, not the mark we see on his test. I look for the same things when I visit schools.  I look to see that our students are challenged and engaged.  I look to see that students are busy, thinking, exploring, trying, and discovering.  I do exactly what you do when you visit your child’s school.  I quietly look into classrooms to see that every student is actively engaged in learning.  I watch to see if students are focused and challenged.  I ask students what they are learning and why.  I lose myself in the experience of watching kids learn.

As a district, we need to use standardized assessments and other tools for a variety of reasons.  They help us compare learning from year to year and they give us one indication of how a school is progressing.  They help us recognize the best teachers and they help us see when we have high-performing schools that others can learn from.  We do celebrate when our DC CAS scores increase and we look to make improvements when they don’t.   I want to be clear, however, that we don’t measure our progress based only on how we do each year on one test.

Recently, there have been a number of questions about how the DC CAS works.  I expect that politicians and bureaucrats will have a lively debate on the mechanics of the test.  While they do that, I’m going to do what you do, watch our students to see how they are learning and do everything I can to support that learning.   If you ever have questions about your child’s learning, please do not hesitate to reach out to his or her teacher or principal.

Sincerely,

Kaya Henderson
Chancellor

 

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