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Critics Cast Doubt on Academic Progress in D.C. Schools

Education officials in the District of Columbia haven't even released 2014 results on citywide reading and math tests, but they are already drawing fire.

Improvements in citywide standardized test scores that have been touted by leaders in previous years paint "a picture of false progress" for poor and minority children, according to a memo released Thursday by a national group that is critical of strategies used in the nation's capital to raise student achievement.

The memo—written by Elaine Weiss of the Broader, Bolder Approach to Education—comes a few weeks ahead of the public release of 2014 assessment results by education officials in the District of Columbia. It calls for school leaders to publish a more complete set of testing data that the author contends would reveal widening achievement gaps between poor, African-American students and their more affluent, white peers.

This criticism of the 45,000-student system builds on a report released last year by the Broader, Bolder folks that also charged leaders in two other urban districts—Chicago and New York City—with exaggerating increases in student achievement and attributing those gains to policies they adopted such as using test scores in teacher evaluations, opening more charter schools, and shutting down failing schools.

Students in D.C.'s public school system—historically one of the lowest-performing districts in the nation— demonstrated the strongest growth among peers in other big-city districts last year on national reading and math assessments.

But the 2013 results on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, also highlighted chasms in student-achievement levels, including in reading performance, between the district's white and black students, as well as its low-income students and their more-affluent peers.

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