Walker-Jones Elementary School is a school in Northwest Washington where 75 percent of the students qualify for free school lunches.
And while a school's test scores generally follow the income and educational level of the neighborhood, in a test of their academic achievement last spring, the school's third and sixth graders -- who just a year before had lagged far behind their classmates across the country -- scored higher in reading than the national norm, and did almost as well in math.
Principal Wilhelmina Bullock Thomas, who headed up the testing last spring, said the students' performance is proof that the school system's new strict curriculum and emphasis on testing is beginning to have an impact on the academic excellence of students -- regardless of their backgrounds.
Although citywide average scores are still disturbingly low, scores in reading and math improved significantly for the first time in a decade.
The scores rose despite a 23-day teachers' strike in March and delays in carrying out the school system's new competency based curriculum (CBC), which gives step-by-step instructions on how to teach all major subjects.
Officials said enough schools were using parts of the CBC curriculum to produce positive results in the tests given last spring. In addition, Superintendent Vincent Reed has made it known how important he considers the tests.
Reed told principals at a meeting in August, "The tests aren't everything, but we're going to look at them very carefully to see what's happening. And we're going to ask some questions."
At Walker-Jones, First and L streets NW, principal Thomas said large sections of the new curriculum were used last year.
"We stressed the tests," she said."We teach the skills that are on the tests and we also teach children the test-taking skills they need. We have practice tests every Friday all year."
Walker-Jones sixth graders spurted from two years behind the national norm in reading in May 1978 to seven months above the norm last May. The third grade scored at the norm in reading last spring, compared to almost one year below it a year earlier.
Test results varied widely from school to school.
In a few schools -- all west of Rock Creek Park -- students averaged among the top 12 percent of all those taking the exams nationwide, and were several years above national norms.
At many other schools scattered throughout the city, averages were substantially below the norms, though most were better than a year earlier. About 25 schools, many of them junior highs, reported averages on the bottom 20 percent nationwide.
While generally the neighborhood income and education level rule of thumb applied, there were significant exceptions such as Walker-Jones.
Like many other schools in the city, Walker-Jones held extra classes before and after the regular school day throughout April to help students make up work lost during the teachers' strike.
"There was a good deal of momentum after the strike," one school system official said, "which you usually don't see at the end of the year. It might have helped (the test scores)."
The tests were given from May 7 to 11 to all third, sixth and ninth graders throughout the city. The multiple choice exams, called the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, were prepared by the California Testing Bureau, a division of McGraw-Hill Publishers. Testing time for the reading and mathematics tests combined was about three hours.
Citywide, the average scores for third graders were two months below the national norms in mathematics and sixth months below in reading. Sixth graders were five months below the norms in math and 1.2 years below in reading. Ninth graders lagged almost three years below the norms in both subjects.
Of the city's 30 junior high schools, only one, Deal at Fort Drive and Nebraska Avenue NW, averaged above the national norms. Ninth graders in a small, selective citywide science program at Anacostia's Ballou Senior High also scored above norms. But elsewhere the school that came closest to the norms, Rabaut, on North Dakota Avenue NW, was still about one year behind national norms.
Of the 130 elementary schools, 50 scored at the national norms or above for at least one grade or subject tested. Fourteen of these, including all 11 schools west of Rock Creek Park, had all their scores above the norms.
Those with the highest scores in the city -- above 85 percent of students tested nationwide -- were Murch and Lafayette Schools in Chevy Chase, Mann in Spring Valley, Janney near Tenley Circle, Hearst in North Cleveland Park and Stoddert in Glover Park. Their scores were similar to those at schools in comparable white-collar professional neighborhoods in Montgomery and Fairfax counties with third graders averaging at the fifth or sixth grade level nationwide and sixth graders doing as well as sophomores or juniors in high school.
Schools elsewhere in the city with all scores above the national norms were: Benning, 41st and East Capitol street NE; Noyes, 10th and Franklin streets NE, and Edmonds-Peabody on Capitol Hill.
The test scores are expressed in grade equivalents based on nationwide norms for each grade. Since the tests were given in early May, the eighth month of the school year, the norms were 3.8 for third grade, 6.8 for sixth grade, and 9.8 for ninth grade. Each 10th of a grade in a test score is equivalent to the achievement expected in one month. Thus, a ninth grader who scored 9.0 would be 8 months below the national norm.
In the charts that accompany this article the figures given for each school are medians. Half the students were above the score list and half were below.
Where no scores are given the school did not include a particular grade or it did not give the standardized test for the particular subject.