Six Area Schools Named For Blue Ribbon Honor

By Daniel de Vise
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

State education officials yesterday named six Blue Ribbon schools for 2007, including Winston Churchill High School in Potomac and River Hill High School in Clarksville, the first high schools to earn the prestigious award since it was revamped to suit the goals of the federal No Child Left Behind initiative.

Most, if not all, of the six -- the list also includes Burleigh Manor Middle School in Ellicott City, Hereford Middle School in Baltimore County, Heather Hills Elementary School in Bowie and George Washington Elementary School in Baltimore -- should go on to win the national Blue Ribbon award next year, the highest honor bestowed upon a school by the U.S. Department of Education.

Of the many awards in K-12 education, few convey such enduring bragging rights as the Blue Ribbon. Maryland schools are selected by state education officials based on a top-to-bottom ranking of performance on Maryland School Assessments in reading and math. Schools with the best scores are further screened for such factors as parent involvement, success in the arts and student community service.

"We look at the school that's in the first position all the way down to 100" in order of performance on the statewide test, said Darla Strouse, director of the Maryland Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence program. "Basically, what we're looking for are the best schools in the state that haven't won the Blue Ribbon award before."

The two high schools are the first to earn Blue Ribbon awards in Maryland since the 2003 overhaul of the national program to focus more squarely on student performance. Schools used to apply for Blue Ribbon honors; now, they are chosen.

At Churchill High, the Class of 2006 posted the second-highest SAT averages (behind Walt Whitman High School) in competitive Montgomery County, 1827 points on a 2400-point scale. The school ranked 76th in the nation on the 2006 Challenge Index, a measure of participation in Advanced Placement study devised by The Washington Post's Jay Mathews.

River Hill High in Howard County is ranked No. 270 on the same index. The school was the top performer in Maryland on the High School Assessment in algebra, with 97 percent of students judged proficient in 2006.

Both Burleigh Manor and Hereford middle schools boast student proficiency of 90 percent or better on the MSAs. Half of the students or more at each school take high school math, and nearly all of that group pass the High School Assessment in algebra.

Such schools prove that "there are some very bright kids doing some very good work at the middle school level," contrary to public perceptions that middle schools are failing, said Stephen Gibson, principal at Burleigh Manor.

Heather Hills Elementary attained 90 percent proficiency on the statewide test with a diverse student population: About half of the 375 students participate in a gifted-and-talented magnet program, and a large proportion receive federal meal subsidies, an index of poverty.

That school and the Baltimore campus were chosen under a provision of the Blue Ribbon program that recognizes schools with substantial socioeconomic challenges that have improved dramatically on statewide tests.

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