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Speak Out: Does Highland Elementary School Investigation Perpetuate Stereotypes?

A news story published this weekend in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution implied possible cheating on standardized tests at Highland Elementary School in Wheaton.

Indirect allegations that improved its test scores by cheating have provoked strong reactions in Montgomery County.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution published an investigative story yesterday calling into question the Wheaton school's National Blue Ribbon status.

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr and denounced what he saw as allegations that the school must have tampered with test scores. Furthermore, he said in a statement Monday morning that the story perpetuated racial and socioeconomic stereotypes.

And he offered up a more succinct criticism on Twitter:

"Alan Judd and @AJC assume that when black, brown and poor kids achievement improves it must be cheating rather than hard work of staff."

“That tweet is right on the money,” said Jean Claude Zenklusen, the Montgomery County PTA coordinator for the Albert Einstein High School cluster, which includes Highland. “I read that article, and I was fuming.”

Highland has a lot of factors working against it, Zenklusen said, particularly a high percentage of students on free or reduced lunch. But improvements have come about not by cheating, but by sheer hard work.

"Between the administration and the parents, they have turned this school around," he said.

Zenklusen, whose own children attend , said that whenever he visits Highland, he's struck by the students' enthusiasm for their work.

Zenklusen remembers when the administration was scratching their heads, trying to figure out why so few parents came to PTA meetings. Then they changed the time from evening to morning, inviting parents to stay for meetings after walking their child to school. Attendance sharply increased.

Although the Highland PTA recently lost its incorporation because of some confusion with English-language application forms, Zenklusen said the cluster is working to get them reinstated.


What do you think? Did the Atlanta Journal-Constitution raise fair questions about how the school achieved dramatic improvement? Or does the article just perpetuate stereotypes in public education? Tell us in the comments.

Sonny Goldreich April 30, 2012 at 09:33 PM
I’m stunned by the Atlanta Journal Constitution's shoddy “expose” on Blue Ribbon School cheating. Its conclusions regarding Highland Elementary School (where my wife teaches ESOL) in Montgomery County, MD, is libelous. It is based entirely on a statistical review and concludes there is cheating. There is no evidence, no proof, no sign of altered tests (as was the case in Atlanta). The “investigation” does not exist. This is a school that has been turned upside down over the past decade as administrators, the county and state have obsessed over raising test scores. Curricula have been scrapped, rebuilt and scrapped and rebuilt again. Teachers have been purged every year. Demands on students have been raised and their school year revolves around preparing for statewide tests. This will improve scores. Once. Then you have to start with a whole new cohort of kindergarten students coming into the school from illiterate homes and the testing clock starts anew. This is no surprise. Is it a scandal? Maybe, if you think students should learn more than penciling in little circles. But that seems to be a subject beyond the command of the AJC reporters, Alan Judd, Heather Vogell and John Perry. Sonny Goldreich, freelance reporter, former staff reporter at the Baltimore Sun, Washington Times, Congressional Quarterly, etc.
Kathleen Michels April 30, 2012 at 09:55 PM
Some of you may remember " Stand and Deliver"? Same allegations, same issue. Children from wealthier communities have a wealth of support both inside school and out. The school is buffered from such score swings since much of the work needed to keep students at a high level is done outside the school. THat a school can ever compensate for a less supportive environment is amazing in itself. Just a little slip in the intensity and the children slip too. There is no "safety net" . Highland View's teacher's and administrator's deserve credit and help to help the children climb back up the achievement ladder again. Finally, teaching to the test is never sustainable and always intensive.
Commentous May 01, 2012 at 03:05 PM
Kathleen--I just wanted to mention that the school is Highland in the heart of Wheaton, rather than Highland View, which is a different school that's also in our County.
Commentous May 01, 2012 at 03:09 PM
I find the article offensive on a numer of counts. First, as someone living in the Highland area, there is poverty, but it's not "a dismal neighborhood." The area has some poor and middle-class, laborers and professionals. I knew Wheaton had problems, but before reading this article, I didn't realize I lived in a slum. Second, other than insinuations, there are no facts to support the article's hypothesis that Highland cheated. What I do know is that when things hit bottom, the County gave the school funds, and the teacher-student ratio became incredible, especially for k-2. The ratio was below 10:1 for kindergartners, and the teachers were excellent. Just because there was rampant cheating in Atlanata does not make it so at Highland. And, yes, if they've had to cut reading, language, and other specialists, or if pressure to perform is lessened, it will make a difference in a location where most students do not speak English at home. We sent our child to one of the foreign language public schools but we visited Highland and would have been very happy sending our child there. The principal and teachers seemed excellent--extremely knowledgeable and caring. If there is any evidence of wrongdoing, please point it out, but simply implying that teachers and educators cheated--as happened in Atlanta--unfairly damages the reputation of the school and its students.
M McCabe May 02, 2012 at 02:59 AM
The AJC investigated blue ribbon schools with suspicious results. If there are explanations for the results- explain them. But don't accuse AJC of perpetuating stereotypes. That is not an explanation.
V. Wood May 03, 2012 at 01:40 AM
My daughter is nearly 40 and was a graduate of Highland Elementary, Sligo Middle School and Einstein High, as well as receiving her BS from UMD and her master's degree from George Washington U. Each of her county schools was a school with no majority and the Highland community we lived in then was nothing like today. Then we had drug dealers on the streetcorners and running thru our backyard when they spotted the jump-out squads. Now we have blue collar workers who take care of their homes and environment and are pleasant neighbors, even if their English is not so good. Most of their kids are very fluent in English and polite. We like it here a lot better today.

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