Before the official start of the Washington Latin’s Grand Opening on Monday I caught up with David Catania, chairman of the D.C. Council’s education committee, and asked him what he thought about the Washington Post story that the Office of the State Superintendent of Education maintained the old DC CAS standardized test scoring system when officials saw that a revised grading scale would result in lower student scores.
He explained that the article did not even begin to explain what happened. Mr. Catania commented that OSSE staffers had worked for two years along with consultants to revise the DC CAS scoring according to the new classroom material tied to Common Core standards. However, Mr. Catania revealed, when OSSE determined that test scores would go down, the organization, at the last minute and against the recommendation of the consultants hired to design the grading of the standardized test, kept last year’s DC CAS scale.
He went on to relate that it was silly to believe that the stated motivation for maintaining the previous year’s examination grading scale was to be able to track student progress from one year to the next. Mr. Catania asserted that the consultants explained to OSSE staff that this could not be done because the knowledge tested on the assessment was no longer the same.
I asked the councilman when he first became aware of the OSSE decision. He replied that he learned about it in early August but that he could not publically say anything at that time because he needed an opportunity to thoroughly investigate the matter before making some extremely serious accusations. He did mention that he was able to obtain all of the internal emails on the subject from OSSE employees.
Finally, I asked him what he thought about these high stakes tests determining whether schools stay open or are closed, teacher ratings, and charter school PMF Tier rankings. He remarked, as he does today in Emma Brown’s Washington Post story, that it has reached a crazy point when the tests are being used in this way. The problem, Mr. Catania stated, is that the definition of proficiency is subjective not objective. He clarified that had the test been administered along with the revised grading scale DCPS would have seen a slight increase in reading scores but a significant drop in math results. The overall change, Mr. Catania concluded, would have been a slight 0.5 percent increase in DC CAS scores from the previous year. But he said the impact is important because it prevents us from taking what we have learned about improving our students’ ability to read and applying the same lessons to the subject of math.
The D.C. Council will be taking up the subject of this year’s DC CAS examination tomorrow.