Letter to the Editor: Elected officials should focus on poor ACPS results

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To the editor:

Standardized test results for the 2017-2018 school year came out the week of Aug. 20 and the results were anything but encouraging. In all but a few very narrow areas, Alexandria City Public Schools scores were lower than the year prior. Worse still, despite outspending the Virginia average by almost $7,000 per pupil, Alexandria schools scored below the Virginia average in every measured category.

Because of its importance as a skill in modern society, perhaps the most depressing statistic was math, where Alexandria scored 16 percentage points less than the state average.

Unfortunately, it seems local officials have resigned themselves to these low levels of performance: Vice Mayor Justin Wilson said he did not find this year’s data concerning, as it mirrored the decreases in pass rates across the state. Wilson attributed the results to a higher level of poverty in Alexandria, overlooking the fact that Alexandria has one of the highest median household incomes in the state. New school Superintendent Dr. Gregory Hutchings Jr. said the results, while not ideal, were in line with his expectations.

In an extraordinary understatement, Hutchings went on to say “there’s room for improvement.” Finally, in a statement somehow meant to be comforting, School Board member Margaret Lorber, when asked about the low scores, pointed out that “testing doesn’t account for ACPS’ outstanding programs in music, art and drama.” Well, that’s a relief.

Further highlighting the disconnect between our elected officials and our city’s most pressing issues — although there was some mention of increasing capital improvements for schools — discussion of the low performance of ACPS was nearly absent from the June primary campaigns. Most of the candidates instead focused their attention on their support for affordable housing and other more popular issues, and largely chose to ignore ACPS’ lagging performance.

Also ignored in the campaigns were the 25 percent of ACPS schools that are not even fully accredited by the state, including Jefferson-Houston School, now denied accreditation for six straight years. Our high school, T.C. Williams, is only partially accredited.

It’s time for this issue to take center stage in Alexandria. Alexandria’s education system represents our city’s future, and it’s time for our leaders to give it the attention it’s due. Pre-K education might help, but most studies have found that the bump in performance provided by Pre-K largely dissipates by the time students reach middle school.

It’s time for new thinking. A popular saying goes that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That’s largely what Alexandria is doing, bringing in new school leaders on almost a yearly basis and expecting different results.

Washington D.C. is having great success with its charter schools, improving performance in three of four measured areas since 2015. The wait lists for charter schools in D.C. continue to grow, reflecting parents seeking successful solutions for their children. It’s time Alexandria opened the aperture on any and all solutions that can help our schools. Alexandria students are paying the price.

-Thomas W. Spoehr, Alexandria

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