In the coming weeks, excited staff and parents will wrap Ashburton Elementary School with a giant blue ribbon. On Friday, it will be among a handful honored by the White House as one of the best schools in the country, a national Blue Ribbon school.

But for some, a slight nagging worry underlies all the pomp and festivities. The new Montgomery County schools superintendent, Jerry D. Weast, has pushed for a new way to measure schools, by their "productivity." His staff analyzed test scores and meticulously drew a map to illustrate the results, coloring "good" schools in green. The one other county school chosen as a Blue Ribbon school, Brooke Grove Elementary, is green.

The "bad" schools are red. And Ashburton is one of them.

Staff members were puzzled. One school official was blunt: "It just makes us look stupid. You go through a rigorous process to be named a Blue Ribbon school, and the next day, you find out you're not productive. What process is real?"

The "productivity map" has caused confusion and consternation but has definitely grabbed people's attention. It measures the rise or fall of the scores of a subset of students over several grades. And it says less about the state of Montgomery County schools than the style of the new superintendent. Weast has since acknowledged that the analysis needs refinement.

And that, says Board of Education member Stephen N. Abrams (At Large), is exactly why he voted to hire Weast. "Gunslingers do that," Abrams said. "Shoot first, ask questions later. I like the style."

Weast promised to be a "change agent" when he reported for duty Aug. 2. So within two weeks, he came up with the productivity map that he gleefully said turned the mythology of Montgomery schools on its head.

The mythology goes like this: Schools in affluent Potomac, Bethesda and Chevy Chase are the best. The "W" cluster, which includes Whitman, Wooton and Winston Churchill, is the most desirable. And the farther east of Interstate 270 a school is, the worse it gets. But on Weast's map, schools with high state test scores -- such as Potomac, Bannockburn, Ashburton and Wyngate elementaries -- were rated "less productive" because their test scores, though high, have not improved much. And schools with lower scores in the eastern part of the county -- such as Galway, Kemp Mill and Beall elementaries -- were rated "more productive" because their results have been climbing.

But to confuse matters further, of the 22 schools just recognized this year by Maryland education officials for making the most gains on their state test scores, on Weast's map, eight were rated productive. Four were in the red. And the rest were average.

Weast's map, handed out to reporters and published in the School Bulletin, sent shock waves through county schools. Weast had made clear that the map would help him intervene with or weed out bad teachers and principals. The map, he said, would guide him in deciding which school got more teachers, attention and money.

The map would help him identify those doing a good job so others could follow their lead. For instance, Brooke Grove might be considered a model, with voice mail for every teacher and brainstorming sessions across grade levels that Principal Eoline Cary leads at staff meetings. Parents take tests on parents night, and the PTA provides breakfast, snacks and beverages on student test day.

But Ashburton is hardly a slacker. The school's scores on county and state tests are among the highest. Teachers don't have to report to work until 8:20 a.m., and the parking lot is full at 8 a.m. The community is involved, spots in the on-site child-care center are coveted, volunteers are plentiful and children are happy, recognized not only for their grades but also for their SHINE program, which encourages neighborliness, helpfulness, imagination and enthusiasm.

"Ten years ago, our nickname was Trashburton, the facilities were old, we had high staff turnover and the community was older," said Wendy Cimmet, an assistant in the media center. "But we got a new building, a new principal, our scores went up and real estate agents are now touting the school. Now we're one of the best schools in Montgomery County. I don't really understand it. I don't know what they're missing."

Weast is now saying that this particular map is only a "concept" and that staff is working on a new one. But if his intent was to shake things up, he succeeded.

"They are shaking things. Boy, are they shaking," said one teacher, who asked not to be identified. "This has really put everyone on their ear."

"There was a real buzz among teachers on back-to-school night," said Maureen Fox, who has been active in the parents group at Bannockburn, a "low productive" school.

In fact, many in the county, including teachers and principals, actually like what Weast was trying to do: measure schools not just by their static test scores but by how much the scores move each year.

For his productivity map, Weast took math and reading scores from the county's Criterion Referenced Test and tracked how a student did from third grade to fourth grade or from fourth to fifth. Thus, the proficiency, or the high test score, was not what mattered, but the movement from year to year.

"Whether it's moving from 90 to 92 or 30 to 40, the expectation of parents is that we're moving each child. That there's growth. That there's value added regardless of the ability," Weast explained recently. "There ought to be some recognition that you're adding value regardless of where you start."

It's a message that resonates with Ellen DeYoung, former principal of Kemp Mill, where nearly half the students are poor and many don't speak English, yet the scores improved enough to garner the school a "productive" rating. "Our scores aren't super high," she said, "and, typically, what newspapers do every year, they publish the scores, and naturally parents and real estate agents judge you. It can get really discouraging when you have a needy population. This is a nice affirmation that we are working hard and it's showing."

Weast then looked at schools with similar demographics to compare their "productivity" ratings. What he found were swings by as much as 100 points. "We've got to start examining why that is," Weast said.

The analysis has drawn criticism because Weast used only a few students' scores to judge the whole school. And with the stakes so high, many said that was unfair.

"My daughter was suffering such bad allergies when she took her fifth-grade CRT, her score dropped 150 points," said Linna Barnes, president of the Montgomery County Council of PTAs. "She could have skewed the test scores with such a small sample. This map is exactly what people have been asking for, but it uses too narrow a measure."

For the new map, Weast directed staff to track more students' scores across more grades.

For higher-scoring schools, such as Ashburton, the rating can be hard to swallow. Critics of the map have used a Michael Jordan analogy: When you're really good, it's hard to get much better. But Weast's unofficial motto is: To whom much is given, much will be expected.

"Some schools look good, but when you consider the kind of student they have, they should be doing better," said Board of Education member Mona M. Signer (Rockville-Potomac). "So their scores are high, great. But I look at Broad Acres [Elementary], where children come to school with so many problems, and they do extremely well there."

William Sanders, pioneer of this growing national "value added" approach to measuring how well schools do by their students, calls high-scoring suburban schools that aren't reaching as high as they might "sliders and gliders."

Is that what Ashburton is? Laptop computers and sensitive weather forecasting equipment are arriving, awards from the state are given for scoring so high on tests. Hallways are plastered with photos of "Ashburton Superstars." Plaques and certificates line Principal Barbara Haughey's office bookshelves.

"No one is being laissez faire about any kind of indicator. This is about increasing rigor, and I embrace that," she said. Then she paused and added, "At the same time, we at Ashburton are going to celebrate our successes, of which there are many."

EDUCATIONAL PRODUCTIVITY IN MONTGOMERY

New Montgomery County School Superintendent Jerry Weast is attempting to assess the productivity rather than just the proficiency of the public schools. The map below, which Weast says is a first draft and subject to change, is based on the performance of a small sample of students on county tests from the 1996-97 school year to 1997-98

(This graphic was not available)

MORE PRODUCTIVE

10. Poolesville

11. Stedwick

19. Watkins Mill

20. Dr. Sally K. Ride

24. Brooke Grove

39. Rosemont

40. Cloverly

42. Darnestowne

51. Beall

52. Stone Mill

53. Brookhaven

57. Travilah

66. Galway

69. Lakewood

70. Twinbrook

80. Kemp Mill

81. Viers Mill

92. Kensington-Parkwood

95. Burning Tree

103. Bradley Hills

104. Rock Creek Forest

107. Chevy Chase

111. Wood Acres

114. Woodfield

LESS PRODUCTIVE

4. Monocacy

5. Laytonsville

6. Greenwood

13. Lake Seneca

15. Judith A. Resnick

22. Strawberry Knoll

27. Mill Creek Towne

31. Sequoyah

34. Flower Hill

41. Burtonsville

45. Maryvale

49. Jones Lane

50. Strathmore

54. Greencastle

59. Meadow Hall

61. Georgian Forest

71. William T. Page

72. Wheaton Woods

73. Jackson Road

78. Potomac

85. Rock View

86. Burnt Mills

91. Ashburton

96. Wyngate

110. Bannockburn

115. Sherwood

116. Jackson Road

AVERAGE

1. Damascus

2. Clarksburg

3. Clearspring

7. Goshen

8. Capt. James E. Daly

9. Waters Landing

12. Fox Chapel

14. Whetstone

16. South Lake

17. Ronald McNair

18. Christa S. McAuliffe

21. Germantown

23. Clopper Mill

25. Olney

26. Brown Station

28. Gaithersburg

29. Cashell

30. Belmont

32. Washington Grove

33. Diamond

35. Candlewood

36. Summit Hall

37. Rachel Carson

38. Thurgood Marshall

43. Flower Valley

44. Stonegate

46. Fields Road

47. College Gardens

48. Dufief

55. Dr. Charles R. Drew

56. Lucy V. Barnsley

58. Westover

60. Wayside

62. Rock Creek Valley

63. Fallsmead

64. Fairland

65. Glenallan

67. Harmony Hills

68. Ritchie Park

74. Cannon Road

75. Weller Road

76. Garrett Park

77. Cold Spring

79. Farmland

82. Luxmanor

83. Highland

84. Beverly Farms

87. Cresthaven

88. Glen Haven

89. Bells Mill

90. Forest Knolls

93. Seven Locks

94. Pine Crest

97. Highland View

98. Oak View

99. Woodlin

100. Carderock Springs

101. North Chevy Chase

102. Piney Branch

105. Rolling Terrace

106. Bethesda

108. Somerset

109. Westbrook

112. Lois P. Rockwell

113. Cedar Grove

117. Oakland Terrace

118. Broad Acres