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Starr Defends Highland Elementary School's Turnaround

The Montgomery County Public Schools superintendent repudiated an article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that investigated cheating at National Blue Ribbon Schools.

Do statistically improbable gains in standardized testing scores indicate that a school is cheating in some way?

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution turned the spotlight on Wheaton’s this weekend in a story about National Blue Ribbon Schools, “Cheating our children: Suspect scores put award’s integrity in question.”

Highland Elementary School was named a National Blue Ribbon School in 2009, the government’s highest educational honor. But just four years earlier, the state of Maryland had threatened to take away county control of the school because of poor scores. Although the Atlanta Journal-Constitution article never directly accused Highland of tampering with results, it cast doubt on whether the school honestly earned the award.

"There's no evidence of cheating that we've seen," Maryland State Department of Education spokesperson Bill Reinhard told Patch.

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Joshua Starr called the article “irresponsible” in a statement released Monday morning. He defended the school’s dramatic improvements:

Let me be clear: The turnaround that occurred at Highland Elementary School was the result of having a great school leader and a motivated staff that had the training, support and resources it needed to serve its students. There has never been an allegation of cheating at Highland Elementary School since the school’s turnaround began and the school continues to get tremendous results even as its resources have been cut significantly over the past four years.

In his response, Starr focused on what he says the AJC reporter left out of the story:

The article suggests that the fact that Highland didn’t make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in 2011 is a further indication of questionable results in the past. Yet, the authors fail to mention that in 2011, Highland missed AYP by four students in just one subgroup—special education—in mathematics during a year that the Academic Measurable Objective increased. This data tells us nothing about Highland, but rather speaks to the absurdity of the AYP formula.

Read Starr’s full statement on the MCPS website, and the full news story on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website.

Janis April 30, 2012 at 11:00 PM
The point of the AJC article was that the scores didn't turn around. They immediately fell as soon as the Blue Ribbon was hung and Harvard wrote a "success story". Point of the AJC article is that a one year jump in scores can earn a school a Blue Ribbon that they keep forever. Superintendent Starr's Press Release doesn't explain why Highland scores jumped up and then fell right back down. Funding at school actually went up per pupil in later year when scores were down.
Sara Rivera April 30, 2012 at 11:12 PM
As a parent with a first grade student at Highland ES I am appalled at the accusation. I have personally seen the hard work, dedication and team work of the staff. Having volunteered at the school weakly for the last two school years and being a member of the PTA I can attest to the difference each and every teacher makes in the education and lives of our children. On numerous occasions I have seen a teacher, para-educator or staff member go above and beyond. Is that not what we are asking for from our schools? But yet in the rare case where it is working and the school is doing the very best for our students you refuse to accept it. I find that very sad. Mrs. Rivera
TaL May 01, 2012 at 03:37 AM
They should perhaps mention the horror of a principal who left in 2005 and was replaced by a young energetic principal who was interested in turning things around rather than in political games and racial politics
Commentous May 01, 2012 at 03:00 PM
I agree with TaL's assessment and 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 ration became incredible, especially for k-2. The ration was below 10:1 for kindergartners, and the teachers were excellent. 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. And Theresa, please read between the lines--there is no explicit accusation of cheating, but it is clearly implied throughout the article. Just because there was rampant cheating in Atlanata does not make it so at Highland. And, yes, if they had to cut reading, language, and other specialists, it will make a difference in an area where most students do not speak English at home. 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.
Theresa Defino May 01, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Upon closer reading of the AJC story, I am deleting my comments. I was wrong; it's more than an accusation. It seems to be a foregone conclusion. My apologies.
Commentous May 01, 2012 at 03:18 PM
No need to apologize. I appreciate it. I've done the same myself on a couple of occasions.
Theresa Defino May 01, 2012 at 03:29 PM
But it is distressing that Highland's achievements have not been sustained.
Commentous May 01, 2012 at 05:11 PM
It's not a positive, but the percentage at "proficient" or "advanced" in grades 3-5 is still very high. For reading, 3rd-5th, the total percentage for each of these grades is about 85/95/95 respectively. For math, it's 83/91/90. These figures compare very well against schools outside of the very affluent areas. For example, Higland View has reading scores for these grades at 87/98/95 and math at 93/87/79. Pine Crest (PC) and Oak View (OV) hold the magnet programs for 4th and 5th graders and these schools have figures of 87/89/92 (PC reading) and 77/87/83 (PC math) and 89/93/89 (OV reading) and 89/93/83 (OV math). I wouldn't want Highland to continue its downward trend, but right now the numbers are still very good.
mina May 16, 2012 at 10:24 AM
I find it very offensive to down grade a school because of the dynamic view point of the financial status, I am a mother who volunteers at the school and participates daily in assisting the staff. It's majority Hispanic culture and a mixture of African American and some Caucasians, so because its Not dominated by the Caucasian it race its considered low/middle class, poor unintelligent children...My son is in first grade and I am amazed at what these little youngsters are learning. It behooves me that this County is still stuck on racism a white superiority that the mind of young Hispanic, and Blacks are not at all advanced as there counter partners...that just makes me laugh...

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