Arundel School Closes Achievement Gap

Trey Coates, 12, foreground, Ashley Willhide, 6, and Todd Franklin paint at a North Glen Elementary family night.
Trey Coates, 12, foreground, Ashley Willhide, 6, and Todd Franklin paint at a North Glen Elementary family night. (By Michael Robinson-chavez -- The Washington Post)
By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, October 31, 2005

Todd Franklin lives in Morris Hills, a sturdy, middle-class, mostly black section of Glen Burnie, in a house around the corner from the one where he grew up. He's married to a woman from across the street. He lives there because the streets are safe, the neighbors are trustworthy and the local school is getting better. A lot better.

His son Joshua is part of the reason. At North Glen Elementary School in the spring, all but one of the 16 black students in the third grade, including Joshua Franklin, scored well enough on the statewide Maryland School Assessment test to be rated proficient. They scored higher than almost every other group of black third-graders in Maryland.

Over the past three years, this Anne Arundel school has achieved a goal that eludes most of the nation's public schools. It has closed the achievement gap between black and white students.

Among black students at North Glen, third-grade proficiency on the statewide test rose from 32 percent in 2003 to 94 percent this year, placing the campus among the top schools in Maryland for black students' performance. Across the third and fourth grades, a grand total of three black students, out of 37 tested, failed to attain proficiency. Blacks now outperform whites on several measures at the racially diverse campus, and white students perform very well.

"My children? Supreme Court judges," Franklin said, beaming at Joshua's younger brother, Joel, as he painted a construction-paper turtle in a classroom on a recent evening, part of a family reading night. "The sky's the limit."

The rise of North Glen Elementary, a school where two-fifths of students are from families poor enough to qualify for free meals, illustrates how a public school can go a very long way in a very short time with the help of a charismatic principal, an enthusiastic staff and supportive parents.

Its academic dossier -- a mixed-race, working-class, high-poverty school with test scores to rival schools in affluent suburbs -- embodies the goal of No Child Left Behind, the federal mandate created as a means to raise academic achievement across all racial and socioeconomic groups, and, most symbolically, to close the historic achievement gap between blacks and whites.

The school's ascendance began three years ago. North Glen Elementary got a new county superintendent, Eric J. Smith; a new statewide test, the Maryland School Assessment; five new teachers; and a new principal, Maurine Larkin, a giddy educator who occasionally allowed herself to be wheeled around the campus on a dolly.

The principal, who was promoted to a bigger school this fall, prepared North Glen students for the annual round of statewide testing, known by the acronym MSA, with a stuffed Chihuahua called "Ms. A," who sometimes spoke to students as Larkin's alter ego during morning announcements.

"I'm not saying we had the master plan at the beginning. The plan kept evolving," said Larkin, whose replacement at North Glen, Julie Little McVearry, is similarly well-regarded.

Throughout the 1990s and into this decade, North Glen was a modestly successful school, with test scores one might expect from a campus with substantial poverty. On statewide tests, whites usually outscored blacks.

In 2003, the first year of the MSA, North Glen ranked 575th among 839 Maryland elementary schools in third-grade reading. About one-third of black students -- and two-thirds of whites -- rated proficient.

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