Star-rating system unveiled for DC’s public schools

WASHINGTON — Nearly 40 percent of D.C.’s public schools, including charters, got a rating of three stars under the new school performance rating unveiled Friday.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser unveiled the new system at Harriet Tubman Elementary School.

The five star-system — schools can get from one to five stars — evaluates schools on a number of factors, information that is required under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA.

Bowser said there is good news in the data. “In fact, we have schools who are earning four stars in every ward of the District,” she said.

According to the data on the D.C. School Report Card website, 9 percent of the District’s schools got a one-star rating, and 8 percent got a five-star rating.

D.C. Council member Charles Allen, who represents Ward 6, said having detailed information about school performance is a good thing. But, he objected to the star ratings being attached to schools. He said they’re being treated like restaurants.

“We’re just creating a Yelp system for our schools, and I don’t think that does justice to the great work that’s happening in and around each one of our schools,” Allen said. He added that the stars oversimplify the work that schools do.

D.C.’s State Superintendent of Education, Hanseul Kang, said those in the bottom 5 percent of the rating system would have access to $11 million in grant money to make improvements.

“What they will be asked to do is to work with their school communities — with their parents, families and educators — to develop a school plan that fits their context and talks about how they plan to use these funds to dramatically improve,” Kang said.

The school system’s interim Chancellor Amanda Alexander said improvement programs for the lowest-performing schools could include “redesign and restart.”

When asked to explain what that meant, Alexander said, “It’s redesigning with new program focus. It could be in the area of mathematics or literacy. It’s really what the actual community wants to engage in.”

Scott Pearson, executive director at the D.C. Public Charter School Board, said, “Of the five schools rated one star, three are being carefully reviewed by the charter board this year, and in some cases, low performance leads to school closure.”

When asked if that meant school closures are being planned, Pearson clarified, “I don’t want to leave the impression that if a school is tier one on the star framework, it’s going to close. We have our own accountability system, and every school has an opportunity to improve.”

He added, “It’s clear that the one-star schools need to get better, and we’re confident that they’re working on that.”

Maryland’s State Department of Education unveiled its rating system under the ESSA requirement on Tuesday. Like D.C., education officials came up with a five-star rating system for Maryland schools.

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Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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