By Tanesha Dixon March 13th, 2014 11:10 AM

In 2013, less that half of the nation’s SAT takers meet the 1550 benchmark set for college and career readiness.  The numbers are markedly lower for Black (15.6%) and Latino students (23.5) (source: SAT Benchmarks: Development of a College Readiness Benchmark and its Relationship to Secondary and Postsecondary School Performance by Jeffrey Wyatt, Jennifer Kobrin, Andrew Wiley, Wayne J. Camara, and Nina Proestler).

So what happens to those students who, despite taking the SAT, do not reach this benchmark? Similarly, what happens to the seniors who did not take the SAT or worse, the students who did not for whatever circumstances make it to their senior year?  As an educator, I think these numbers are appalling and dare I say criminal.  In one of the most industrialized counties on this planet, we fail to provide equal access to an education that would lend itself to high school and college completion.

In DC Public Schools, we’re making an investment in our lowest performing schools and setting ambitious goals around improving academic achievement. In our 40 lowest performing schools, which serve large populations of students that need extra support, we’re committed to improving proficiency rates by 40 percentage points before the end of 2017.

I am a DCPS educator at Wheatley Education Campus, one of our district’s 40 schools lowest performing schools (also referred to as the Targeted 40). I firmly believe that it is my professional duty and moral obligation to provide my students with an education that will not only make them competitively college and career ready, but equip them with the social and emotional skills they will need to navigate the complex world that awaits them.  Some may think these are lofty goals or impossible.  To me, they are the self-fulfilling prophecies that encouraged, supported and propelled me to success. I want to pay it forward and be all that and more for my students.

I teach to ignite the fire, passion, and drive it takes to persevere and overcome insurmountable odds. However some days, I feel challenged beyond measure by those seemingly insurmountable odds.  There’s no teacher preparation course or manual that adequately prepares you to confront the ills and isms that threaten to derail the academic, social and emotional growth of students.  I also feel the pressure to quickly accelerate achievement.  In the Targeted 40, there is no time for incremental growth if we are going to reach our ambitious goal.  There is a sense of critical urgency that drives both teaching and learning. And while I sometimes feel challenged or pressured, I also feel hopeful that the work that I am doing matters because I am supported by my school leadership to design and implement innovative programs with student achievement and engagement metrics.  I feel extremely lucky to teach on a team with Superman [1], vertically plan with a published author, and engage with a host of equally talented and dedicated professionals that stop at nothing short of ensuring their students get their absolute.

Are you deeply committed to cultivating the dreams and talents of youth that will one day bestow beautiful gifts to their communities and the world?  Do you want to close (and permanently seal) the achievement gap? I do, and #IamDCPS.

Tanesha Dixon is a 7th and 8th grade social studies teacher and technology integration coach at Wheatley Education Campus. Follow Ms. Dixon on Twitter @i143ss.

[1] Mr. Taylor was highlighted in the critically acclaimed Waiting for Superman documentary.