YOU'VE BEEN hearing much about the fact that, nationally, black students as a group fall far below their white counterparts in such measures of ability as standardized tests. Often lost within those figures was another fact: that in many school systems there was at least one predominantly black school and sometimes more whose test scores surpassed that locality's average scores as well as national norms. And that occurred in schools within low-income neighborhoods, where we have been led to expect the worst.
School systems throughout the country are now learning to look carefully at these exceptional schools and develop ways to replicate their methods more widely. In Cleveland, one of these beacon schools is Forest Hill Parkway Elementary. More than 85 percent of the students at that largely black school have reached or surpassed national norms in standardized tests. The children come from families with an annual income level of around $13,000.
The reasons cited by school system officials here and elsewhere for such improvement are familiar: a strong principal who can motivate the staff, higher demands made of students, clear-cut curriculum goals and recognition of successful efforts. Parents have been reached and encouraged to participate in their children's education. There is nothing that says that this could be achieved at every school, but to the extent that those goals could be at least partially reached, any school would be better off.
Prince George's County, among others, has been paying careful attention to Cleveland's example, and is using it as a guide in the improvement of its own schools. Prince George's already has some model schools, notably Concord Elementary, where test scores far surpass the countywide average. But Cleveland has much to show other school systems, and throughout the country good school administrators have learned to learn quickly from each others' experiences.
These success stories give the lie to the notion that students from poor, black families cannot perform as well academically as students from other backgrounds. These outstanding schools are now exerting a strong and salutary national influence, demonstrating convincingly that children's education does not have to be determined by race, social class and family income.