The following article, excerpted below, appeared in The Washington Post (10-31):
"…Over the past three years, [Maryland’s North Glen Elementary School] has achieved a goal that eludes most of the nation's public schools. It has closed the achievement gap between black and white students.
"Among black students at North Glen, third-grade proficiency on the statewide test rose from 32 percent in 2003 to 94 percent this year, placing the campus among the top schools in Maryland for black students' performance. Across the third and fourth grades, a grand total of three black students, out of 37 tested, failed to attain proficiency. Blacks now outperform whites on several measures at the racially diverse campus, and white students perform very well.
"‘My children? Supreme Court judges,’ [Todd] Franklin, [a North Glen father] said, beaming at [his son] Joshua’s younger brother, Joel, as he painted a construction-paper turtle in a classroom on a recent evening, part of a family reading night. ‘The sky’s the limit.’…
"[The school’s] academic dossier — a mixed-race, working-class, high-poverty school with test scores to rival schools in affluent suburbs — embodies the goal of No Child Left Behind…, created as a means to raise academic achievement across all racial and socioeconomic groups, and, most symbolically, to close the historic achievement gap between blacks and whites.
"The school’s ascendance began three years ago. North Glen Elementary got a new county superintendent, Eric J. Smith; a new statewide test, the Maryland School Assessment; five new teachers; and a new principal, Maurine Larkin, a giddy educator who occasionally allowed herself to be wheeled around the campus on a dolly.
"The principal, who was promoted to a bigger school this fall, prepared North Glen students for the annual round of statewide testing, known by the acronym MSA, with a stuffed Chihuahua called ‘Ms. A,’ who sometimes spoke to students as Larkin's alter ego during morning announcements….
"Larkin was able to double the number of staff members assigned to provide extra help to low-scoring students. She launched before- and after-school programs for low performers….
"Larkin sensed that teachers and students were jittery about the all-important statewide exam…. Larkin sat down with every fourth- and fifth-grade student to go over their scores from the previous year. Then, as the spring testing date approached, Larkin trotted out ‘Ayap,’ another stuffed dog, this one named for the federal goal of adequate yearly progress.
"‘I would walk around with him, and Ayap would kiss people — Ayap wants you to do just a little bit better than last year,’ Larkin said, lapsing into stuffed-dog-speak….
"In 2003, eight of 25 black students in North Glen's third grade rated proficient in reading. The next year, 11 of 18 showed proficiency; and this year, 15 of 16.
"Today, North Glen's teachers, most of them hired by Larkin, enjoy the sort of bond that comes from singing karaoke, kidnapping the principal's stuffed dog and plotting academic strategy together in a school with just 250 students."
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