The weeks that follow District of Columbia Public Schools spring break are sometimes difficult for students and teachers alike – with the weather beginning to turn warmer and summer vacation around the corner, it can be tough to transition back to the classroom for the last time in the academic year.
But in DC, those weeks are also some of the most important of the entire academic calendar. On April 17 the District’s Comprehensive Assessment System (CAS) testing is set to begin.
The CAS is DCPS’ flagship testing mechanism – a multi-day battery of tests administered every April to students in grades 2 through 8 as well as grade 10. The culmination of a year’s worth of citywide standardized testing, the CAS provides the District with data needed to meet the requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind Law, which mandates that school districts administer standardized tests yearly and demonstrate gains in reading and math.
Everyone taking the CAS next week will test in reading and math. Fourth, seventh, and tenth grader will also take a writing test; fifth and eighth graders also take a science test.
City Year corps members, who currently serve in 14 schools across DC, have been helping to prepare their students for the test through extra tutoring hours, morning warm ups, and academic games in after school. Next week, however, the students must test on their own.
The CAS’ implications for students can be considerable. CAS scores are one method by which middle and high school admissions officers assess prospective students, and are required by most schools either before or after acceptance.
Often, it is school administrators and teachers who feel the impact of CAS scores most profoundly. A school that does not make adequate yearly progress on its CAS scores can be designated “in need of improvement” after just two years. After three, a school must provide “supplemental education services” to its students.
After four years, “corrective action” must be taken to improve a school, which often means replacing staff, faculty, and administrators. After five, a school must be restructured completely under No Child Left Behind.
Because many of the schools City Year Washington, DC serves in are among the lowest performing on the CAS, corps members are by now very familiar with the pressure the test creates for students and administrators alike. Despite some elevated stress levels, the next week is a time for both anxiety and optimism –one week in which students have the opportunity to demonstrate a year’s worth of learning.