Md. tests torpedo successful program Barclay School ends Calvert partnership after scores falter

March 02, 1996|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,SUN STAFF

The principal of the Barclay School, who fought for years before winning the right to use the private Calvert School curriculum in her city elementary-middle school, said yesterday that the two schools are ending their formal partnership.

The six-year relationship with the Calvert School fell victim to a state-required test, the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program, Principal Gertrude Williams said.

Even though students were performing well in the classroom and on standardized tests, third-graders faltered on the last state test, and the school decided it had to adjust its curriculum to offer more MSPAP preparation, Ms. Williams said.

The Calvert School said that if the curriculum was changed, it was no longer the Calvert curriculum, and the break became inevitable, Ms. Williams said.

"At first I felt some sorrow," she said, "but now I think we can handle it on our own.

"We soared on the Calvert curriculum, and we'll soar on MSPAP."

The Calvert headmaster, Merrill S. Hall III, did not return telephone calls yesterday.

Ms. Williams said the Calvert curriculum concentrates on the student-teacher relationship, and MSPAP requires students to do group work as well.

"We have two masters," she said, "the Calvert curriculum and the city and state curriculum.

"We're failing at what we have to do on the MSPAP.

"It is unfortunate, but we're a public school, and we have to meet those standards."

Ms. Williams, who has been discussing the issue with teachers since the MSPAP results were released in December, announced the decision in a note sent home to parents yesterday.

While Barclay will continue to use Calvert materials, the private school will stop supervising the program as of June.

The essence of the program is strict adherence to a detailed curriculum.

It allows no room for change, even listing what spelling words should be learned in which weeks and how they should be used in follow-up exercises.

"Barclay students have benefited greatly from the Barclay-Calvert partnership," Ms. Williams said.

"By any measure -- standardized tests, attendance, work habits, attitudes, behavior -- they have grown impressively."

Now Barclay's challenge, she said, is to keep doing that on its own, while adding fine-tuning for the MSPAP.

Calvert has supervised the implementation of its curriculum at Barclay through sixth grade.

Next fall, Barclay will develop its own program, based on Calvert principles, in grades seven and eight, Ms. Williams said.

The project has been financed by an Abell Foundation grant, and Barclay will submit a budget request for the next year to the Abell board in April, she said.

Abell has paid for a coordinator, who has reported to Calvert. A second coordinator, who also reported to Calvert, has been paid out of city funds.

"We have not strayed for six years," Ms. Williams said. "Now we have to do it on our own.

"We got more out of it than we ever thought we would. I don't feel let down."

Still, there was a sense of the past being repeated.

When Ms. Williams first tried to enter into the partnership with the Calvert School, the superintendent at the time refused to allow the experiment.

Parents protested that if the curriculum was good enough for some of Baltimore's most privileged children, then some of its less-privileged children ought to have the same opportunity.

The dispute led to the ouster of the superintendent, Richard C. Hunter, in 1990, and Barclay adopted the Calvert curriculum.

Now, the curriculum apparently isn't good enough for the MSPAP, which is required for public schools but not for private schools.

"Yes, there is that dimension," said JoAnn Robinson, the community representative on Barclay's School Improvement Team.

"And it's a little difficult to change it after you've worked together for six years and after we fought so hard to get it."

She said, however, that teachers are so pleased with the curriculum and have learned to work with it so well that they are likely to continue using it effectively, even as they figure out how to adjust to account for the MSPAP.

Parents said they were nervous about any changes in what they regard as a highly successful program at Barclay.

"I'm kind of apprehensive about change," said Debra Whitson, ++ whose first-grader attends Barclay.

"I think the Calvert curriculum has been excellent.

"My daughter is doing remarkable things. She can read. She writes composition. She has all 'excellents' in spelling."

Mrs. Whitson said her daughter had ranked at the very top, in the 99th percentile, on nationally normed standardized tests.

"The students do so well," she said, "and it's not an easy curriculum."

The Calvert curriculum is being phased in at a second city school, Carter G. Woodson Elementary.

And the city is planning to rewrite its system-wide curriculum to incorporate principles of the Calvert curriculum, which has been used by the private school for 100 years.

But scores for third-graders at Barclay declined on the last MSPAP.

Whereas 35 percent had attained a satisfactory level in writing on the 1994 test, only 18 percent did so on the 1995 test.

They went from 22 percent in math to 11 percent. Though the number of children taking the test was small, Ms. Williams said she felt compelled to act.

She said the state superintendent of schools, Nancy S. Grasmick, had visited Barclay and commented on the scores.

"She told me, 'As bright as those children are, I know they can do better,' " Ms. Williams said.

Ronald A. Peiffer, Dr. Grasmick's spokesman, said Barclay appeared to be doing the right thing if it was modifying its program because of MSPAP results.

But he said the curriculum itself might not be responsible.

He said some other private schools in the state, with a similar curriculum, had taken the MSPAP as an experiment and had done well on it.

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