Low test scores may shut school run by parents Stadium School in Baltimore criticized in audit

Founders pledged in '94 to meet standards or close

March 28, 1997|By Jean Thompson | Jean Thompson,SUN STAFF


A headline and article in March 28 editions of The Sun may have left the misimpression that a Baltimore City school system audit had found that the Stadium School was failing and would have to close unless test scores and instruction improved.

In fact, the audit did not suggest that the school was failing and would need to close. The audit stated that when the Stadium School opened in 1994, its planners set five-year performance goals and said they would close the school if such goals were not met. The audit also pointed out that "based on current data trends, it seems highly unlikely" that the goals will be achieved on time.

The audit went on to say that the Stadium School should consider making appropriate modifications to promote faster and more substantial gains in student performance. It also suggested a number of possible modifications.

The Stadium School, Baltimore's pioneering parent-run school, is failing and will have to close if its test scores and instruction do not improve, a school system audit suggests this week.

When the school was granted city funds and independence in 1994, founding parents and teachers pledged that within five years, students would be meeting all Maryland education standards -- or the school would close.

"Based on current data trends, it seems highly unlikely that the standard will be met by that time," warns the audit, conducted for the city school board and obtained by The Sun.

Ellen Gonzales, the area assistant superintendent in whose district the Stadium School lies, declined to comment because she has not discussed the recommendations with the school.

Presented to the city school board this week, the report prompted some members to question whether the school should be closed now. They have called for further review.

The findings suggest that the school be less independent and also cast a shadow over the city's plans to increase the number of community-run public schools.

The Stadium School was cited this winter as the model when the school board approved a plan to open more independent public schools this fall. Ten nonprofit groups of parents, teachers and others will be managing city schools if their final plans pass muster in May.

In the relaxed atmosphere of the Stadium School, lessons are hands-on projects exploring community issues, with little emphasis on textbooks or rote drills in classes that are typically no larger than 22 students. There are no "A-B-C" grades. The teachers judge work with an "A" for Achieved, NC for Near Completion and LP for Little Progress.

But according to the report, the students are not getting enough math, science and English, and the grading system isn't an adequate progress report.

The report says that only one of 27 seventh-grade students who took the Maryland Functional Test for math passed last year. Only one of 12 eighth-graders who took the test passed it. In writing, one of 37 students who took the test passed. These tests are required for high school graduation, but are often passed in middle school.

On the critical-thinking tests used to judge school quality, the Stadium School showed progress in its eighth grade and ranked among the top 10 middle schools in the city: 41 percent of test takers earned satisfactory scores in writing, and 16.7 percent earned satisfactory scores in math.

Still, the report notes, this is well below the founders' pledge and the state standard of 70 percent of students earning "satisfactory" marks -- a standard that few schools statewide have met.

Meanwhile, in the fifth grade "no improvement in performance was noted from one year to the next," the report says. In only one subject -- writing -- did fifth-graders post a rising score.

Yesterday, parents, teachers and others connected with the tiny school of 80 students disputed the findings. They say they want the full five years they were promised to prove they can succeed.

"We are still optimistic," said Jay Gillen, the school's teacher-director. He had not received a copy of the report yesterday. "I still think we are going to make it because our children deserve it."

Gillen and Stadium School governing board members say they have strengthened the math curriculum and other lessons, and beefed up school discipline since a bumpy start-up year, which saw 12 families depart in dissatisfaction. The report has come at a bad time for the still-homeless school, which has been pressing the city to negotiate with Dome Corp. for leased space in a former school and feels pressured to prove that the investment would be worthwhile, Gillen said.

"We are making this as much of a community school as we can without being in the community," said Alexzine Campbell, a parent-founder and Stadium School board member who also teaches there.

The school is temporarily housed in the school system's Samuel L. Banks Professional Development Center in the 2500 block of East Northern Parkway, far from its original site at Memorial Stadium. "Our curriculum is based on community service, yet it is thwarted to some degree because we aren't getting a whole lot of support so that we could be there," Campbell said.

The report lauds the Stadium School for its high level of parental support, community involvement, teachers' dedication and relaxed learning atmosphere.

The report recommends:

Stadium School adopt more traditional teaching methods, which the system can track.

Standardize the alternative grading system to show the students' progress toward specific state education goals.

Consider dropping the fourth and fifth grades, to give more attention to sixth through eighth grades, where students have shown more progress.

Require an evaluation for the school's teachers to make sure they are effective.

Pub Date: 3/28/97

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