At This D.C. Charter School, a High Quality Education Means More Than Math and Reading

Jun 14, 2016 12:00:00 AM

by Ed Post Staff

Tests like the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) exam are meant to test for academic excellence, which is supposed to be a reflection on how well the school they attend is doing as a whole. The problem with this is that you are only testing for one part of what a school offers—and really, we teach our students so much more than what is asked on this exam. Here in the District of Columbia, the D.C. Public Charter School Board ranks schools annually from Tier 1 to Tier 3, based on student achievement, enrollment and attendance. The results of the PARCC exam are the sole marker of student achievement. Here’s why this is a problem: The tier system does not evaluate how well the school is teaching students values or the ability to persevere emotionally and focus on learning through difficult situations. [pullquote position="left"]It doesn’t measure the skills needed for conflict resolution or being polite in social situations.[/pullquote] At Eagle Academy Public Charter School–Congress Heights, a pre-K through third grade school located in Southeast D.C.’s 8th Ward, we find ourselves at the crux of the highest crime and poverty rates in the city. As the first exclusively early-childhood public charter school in the District, we place a huge emphasis on developing the entire child, including not only academics but also the social and emotional skills that will make our students well-rounded, polite, productive people. For example, in the second grade, we have the children play hopscotch together in class, explaining that if there is disagreement about who is “out” or missed a step, they have to peacefully work it out themselves. Through this exercise, we are teaching our students how to resolve “kid problems” or problems with their peers. For some of our students, school is the only place that will teach peaceful conflict resolution, an all-important life skill kids need to succeed. The PARCC exam, which our third-graders take, does not test Eagle’s ability to teach that.

Don't Take Our Word For It

The research speaks for itself. A 2015 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that children’s social skills in kindergarten were linked to how well they were doing in early adulthood. Researchers from Penn State University and Duke University compared teacher evaluations of kindergartners’ social competency skills with how the children ended up 20 years later. The results were astounding. For every one-point increase in a child’s social competence score in kindergarten, they were twice as likely to attain a college degree in early adulthood; 54 percent more likely to earn a high school diploma; and 46 percent more likely to have a full-time job at the age of 25. We recognize the need to hold our schools and teachers accountable to ensure our students meet grade-level expectations. We caution, however, on using one exam as the sole marker for growth and achievement. [pullquote position="right"]We need our scholars to also be collaborators, problem-solvers, helpers, supporters and friends.[/pullquote] We value these qualities at Eagle; our education system should recognize their value as well. Let us be clear: Charter schools represent a genuine revolution, and are challenging what it means to educate. They offer students extraordinary opportunities to learn skills that would otherwise be overlooked. Charter schools can redesign the traditional educational process to tailor to the specific needs of their students. Through innovative programs and unorthodox teaching methods, many are raising the bar for what students are expected to gain from their education. At Eagle, we take pride in teaching our students not only how to read and write, but also how to swim ( a requirement for graduation), how to say “good morning” to each other at the start of each day, and how to use their words, rather than violence, to resolve conflict. Let’s not be overly simplistic in how we evaluate charter schools in the District and across the nation. High-quality education requires more than just math and reading to change the trajectory of a child’s life.

Ed Post Staff

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