Northwestern Emerging As Academic Contender

By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 19, 2006

Who's number two?

In Prince George's County, it's a given that Eleanor Roosevelt High School is the dominant academic power. With more than 2,900 students, the Greenbelt school has the highest enrollment in the county and every year turns away many who want to transfer there for strong programs in science, technology and other fields. Its test scores far outpace those attained by the other 20 high schools that serve 1,000 or more students.

The real question is which high schools in the county are at or near the top of the second tier -- with good, or at least acceptable, academic performance and with trends in performance rising. There are several possible answers, each with arguments in their favor.

Consider one new academic ranking that puts Hyattsville's Northwestern High School in second place. It's from the organization that administers the Advanced Placement testing program.

The College Board reported that 17.9 percent of the graduates in Northwestern's class of 2005 achieved a passing grade on at least one AP exam during their career -- a strong indication of the students' potential to perform at a demanding level.

That percentage, dubbed "AP equity and excellence," was behind only Roosevelt's mark of 28.9 percent for the same period.

Northwestern's mark beat the national average of 14.1 percent and third-place Bowie High School 's 13.2 percent. High Point High School in Beltsville recorded 11.7 percent; Laurel High School , 9 percent; Oxon Hill High School , 6.5 percent; Frederick Douglass High School in Upper Marlboro, 4.3 percent; Charles H. Flowers High School in Springdale, 3.7 percent; and Parkdale High School in Riverdale, 3.3 percent.

The county's other high schools all had 2.5 percent or fewer graduates who had passed an AP exam. The Washington Post obtained the marks from the school system through a public information request.

What's notable about Northwestern's academic performance is that the school -- unlike Roosevelt -- does not skim the academic cream of middle schools. Most of Northwestern's population is composed of minorities , and more than one-third of its students are Latino, many of them learning English as a second language. More than half of its students receive federal meal subsidies, and many others would qualify under the poverty guidelines but have not applied.

A look at Northwestern's scores in detail shows that the school has standout AP Spanish and AP Studio Art programs, with 46 students passing the Spanish language test last spring and eight passing the studio-art test. Students also earned scores of 4 or 5 in biology, English language, English literature, French language, psychology and world history. The tests are scored on a scale of 1 to 5. Three is a passing grade.

Principal Jerome Thomas said he wants to build on those marks. He's now requiring students to take the AP test if they take an AP class. Thomas said the school will reimburse registration fees for those who can't afford them, an expense of several thousand dollars.

"Many students need a push," Thomas said, explaining why some AP students previously avoided the year-end test. "It's a fear of failure."

Northwestern students took 340 tests last spring, up from 335 in 2004 and 248 in 2003. That made Northwestern third in the county in AP test participation. Roosevelt students took 844 tests last spring and Bowie High students 487.

Board Members Bowing Out

School board politics are back.

Four years after Maryland abolished the county's elected school board, elections are scheduled in the fall to replace a nine-member board that was appointed in 2002 by a governor and county executive who are no longer in office.

Interviews with members of the board suggest several will not run for their posts in the coming election. Dean Sirjue (Bowie), Abby L.W. Crowley (Greenbelt) and Robert O. Duncan (Laurel) have said they will bow out. Sirjue has been a key link to the business community, Crowley a leading voice in curriculum and special education and Duncan a financial expert.

Board Chairman Beatrice P. Tignor (Upper Marlboro) also said she would not run. Tignor favors state action to extend the term of the appointed board. Only Vice Chairman Howard W. Stone Jr. (Mitchellville) said he would definitely be a candidate in the election. Judy Mickens-Murray (Upper Marlboro), Jose Morales (Greenbelt), John R. Bailer (Camp Springs) and Charlene M. Dukes (Glenn Dale) are keeping their options open.

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