Looking Back to Move Forward: Progress and Opportunity in District of Columbia Public Schools

Drew Atchison and Laura B. Stein

At the close of School Year 2010−11, less than 50% of students in District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) were performing at “proficient” or better levels in reading or mathematics, and only half of students were graduating high school within four years. Students in DCPS’ lowest-performing schools were faring even worse; on average, less than a quarter of students in these schools were performing at the “proficient” level or better.

In the spring of 2012, DCPS launched a five-year plan, entitled A Capital Commitment, to strategically address the challenging circumstances facing DCPS students. This policy brief summarizes many of DCPS’ accomplishments and highlights areas where improvement is still needed to meet DCPS’ overarching goal of “providing every student with a safe, academically challenging and inspiring learning experience.”

In particular, the brief examines each of the following goals and focuses on (a) whether DCPS met the goal set out in the plan, and (b) the extent to which progress toward each goal was experienced by certain subgroups of students:

  • Improved student achievement
  • Improvement in struggling schools
  • Increased high school graduation rates
  • Increased student enrollment
  • Improved student satisfaction

Results showed that although DCPS has made measurable progress over the past five years in terms of the goals laid out in the strategic plan, gains have not been evenly distributed among all student groups or across all of DC’s eight wards.