Reading Into D.C. Schools
Published: Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 00:09
One of the advantages and greatest responsibilities of being involved in D.C. Reads is that tutors are constantly compelled to assess how the public school system affects students on individual, institutional and systemic levels. The quality of education in the District’s public schools is dependent upon the ways in which government institutions create an educational framework that teachers and administrators must follow.
Typically, educated adults come to D.C. with a specific political agenda and have little regard for the needs of DCPS students. Because of this, we feel compelled to advocate for our students.
As tutors and teacher aids, we are given a firsthand view of the complex demands that these schools face. The current system places great emphasis on statistical progress, creating an urgency to raise students’ scores on tests such as the D.C. Comprehensive Assessment Study. In practice, school administrators and teachers treat students’ D.C. CAS assessments as guidelines around which to structure their classrooms. Reading groups are formed based on students’ D.C. CAS test scores, stratifying students and allowing for little student progress on either end of the spectrum.
While it’s difficult to provide an alternative method for measuring academic achievement, we believe that the D.C. CAS creates a high-stakes testing culture that translates into an uncomfortable and ineffective learning environment. Such an atmosphere contributes to a growing disconnect between students and the material they are learning. Learning becomes a chore, rather than a process of intellectual growth and empowerment.
As Georgetown students, we have all participated in the same kind of learning process in which our tutees are currently engaged. At an early age, we had to learn basic reading, writing and math skills that paved the way for us to get where we are today. Within the next decade, the students in our program will have to make decisions about higher education. Hopefully, they will be in a place where their options are not limited by unfair assessments of their academic capabilities.
Unfortunately, the current D.C. Public Schools system is not that place. Students’ futures here are compromised by an institution that has historically and systemically worked to their disadvantage. Ward 3 elementary schools have an 82 percent proficiency level in reading, whereas Houston Elementary in Ward 7 has a 40 percent proficiency level.
We cannot put our faith in such a system if it cannot be held accountable for its own disparities.
Does our Jesuit education not ask us to challenge these kinds of social injustices? It is our civic duty to utilize the resources that we have as college students to address the inequalities that limit the futures of local youth.
As rich as our Georgetown education may be, we often fail to take the time to put our knowledge into practice. We need to assess our surroundings and provide solutions to problems in our own city.
As a nation that prides itself on creating future leaders, we tend to overlook the fact that a high-level education is not accessible to all. As advocates for D.C. youth, we feel that we have an obligation to bridge the gap that exists between our students’ performance in school and their personal attitudes toward learning. We want students to feel a sense of ownership over the learning process, not alienation from it.
ELISA MANRIQUE is a junior in the College. CAT SKOLNICKI is a senior in the College. They are both coordinators for D.C. Reads.