Zachary Testifies Before the DC Council Education Committee
Candidate Zachary Parker testified before the DC Council Education Committee's Education Public Oversight Roundtable hearing on “The Future of School Reform in the District of Columbia. See below a transcript of his remarks.
Zachary Parker – Senior Director of School Support, The Achievement Network; 2018 Candidate, DC State Board of Education
Testimony at the Public Oversight Roundtable on The Future of School Reform in the District of Columbia Part II
May 16, 2018
Good evening, Chairman Grosso, members of the Education Committee, and broader community of educators and stakeholders. My name is Zachary Parker and I serve as Senior Director of School Support with the Achievement Network and am a 2018 candidate for the DC State Board of Education. I am here today to speak to my work with schools throughout the District and highlight what has been working in our public schools. Education reform in the District is improving learning for our students.
NAEP comparisons of student performance across urban school districts show that DC schools have made continuous improvements over the past 9 years. Since 2009, DCPS students have grown by 10 points in 4th grade reading and 11 points in 4th grade math. Over the same period, DCPS 8th graders have grown by 6 points in reading and 11 points in math. Also significant, DCPS has seen steady growth for students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunch, growing 8 points in 4th grade reading, 9 points in 4th grade math, and 4 points in 8th grade math.
Student performance on the PARCC summative assessment tells a similar story. DCPS has seen steady gains on the PARCC assessment in both math and ela in past years, with schools making record gains in both ELA (+6.4 percentage points) and math (+3.5 percentage points) on last year’s 2017 assessment. Additionally, with PARCC’s 5 level scoring system, where 5 is the highest and 1 is the lowest, the percentage of students scoring at a Level 1 or 2 decreased significantly in ela (-6.6 percentage points) and math (-4.4 percentage points). Likewise, economically disadvantaged students made some of the largest improvements (+9.2 in ela and +6.6 in math).
In short, while progress has not been linear, education reform in the District is working.
I have the unique opportunity to work alongside school leadership teams throughout the city, coaching and supporting them to triangulate learning standards, performance data, and curriculum to improve instruction and accelerate student learning. I work with a variety of schools, from elementary to high school, from charter to traditional public (DCPS) schools, which has allowed me to see firsthand how hard our school communities are working to provide students a quality education, while addressing real and often significant learning needs and content gaps.
Having had the opportunity to once teach 7th grade math in New Orleans, LA pre-Common Core, and seeing the disparity between what I was tasked with teaching my students (multiplication facts and operations at the time) and what a student in Boston might learn, for example, I see the Common Core as a tool of equity. Common Core in essence sets a high bar for what all students will learn in a given grade, whether in New Orleans, Boston or Washington D.C. DC schools have navigated the Common Core transition to full implementation where much of school teams’ focus is now on quality of execution by way of curricula internalization, training structures, and data analysis.
DCPS has made large investments in quality curriculum, which will surely support further positive outcomes for students. I have seen firsthand how the District’s adoption of the Eureka math curriculum, for example, which is among the highest rated curriculums published today, has resulted in more conceptual instruction, greater coherence, and improved rigor in teacher lessons. Sustained school improvement, though, results from both adaptive and technical change. The adaptive change that is still needed across schools is deep study of learning standards that will only come through improved and more targeted training for leaders and teachers. What is more, we need to review leader and teacher evaluation process, examining the importance we place on content knowledge and then ensure our school communities are supported.
DCPS’s LEAP training structures have significantly increased the amount of time teachers spend on content and pedagogical development. Still though, many of our leaders and teachers report that they do not feel adequately supported. While DCPS’s LEAP structures is much-needed and a welcomed step in the right direction for training and development, we must redefine, revalue, and reinvent how we go about actually training our teachers, individualizing content and training as much as possible. What is more, we must also provide space for teachers, leaders, and school communities to explore their biases, examining how their beliefs inform their approach to our students.
DCPS’s use of quality formative assessments in ela, for example, has drastically increased the amount of actionable data at school leaders’ and teachers’ fingertips. Students are writing more and better, teachers are studying student misconceptions from quality items, and some schools are regularly implementing short reteach cycles to push for constant improvement. That said, it remains true that many of our schools are data rich and not yet data driven. School leaders and principal managers need to align on the most important formative and growth metrics that will drive toward change to support school teams in using data to inform instruction across classrooms.
It is no secret that recent developments of fraudulent grade, truancy, and suspension rate changes have cast a shadow over DCPS schools and the hard work our leaders and teachers do every day to improve learning for students. Still though, we have made progress in Washington D.C. We must not turn back now, but continue improving in areas where we have started seeing success.
Thank you Chairman Grosso and members of the Education Committee for your time, and for your commitment to high-quality public education for all students in the District.