3 privatized schools show gains on test

Several grades at Gilmor, Templeton, Montebello double, triple scores

`It really ought to give hope'

Two elementaries had struggled last year, first under Edison's rule

April 23, 2002|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Two years after being taken over by the state for their abysmally low test scores, three Baltimore schools have begun to show significant improvement under the management of a for-profit company.

Furman L. Templeton, Gilmor and Montebello elementary/junior academies showed substantial progress under Edison Schools Inc. on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, a national standardized test given annually to city children in grades one through eight.

Performance in math was especially strong at all three schools on the tests given last month, with some grades more than tripling their scores. At Templeton, first-graders went from the 23rd median percentile to the 74th percentile. At Gilmor, first-graders went from the 15th to the 49th percentile.

Gains also were made in reading in some grades, though other grades dropped slightly. The second-grade score at Templeton shot up from the 15th to the 48th percentile, and Montebello's second-grade score went from the 53rd to the 79th percentile.

The 50th percentile is the national median.

The Edison schools' test scores, released yesterday by the state Department of Education, are particularly significant because two of the three had struggled last academic year, their first under the management of Edison, the country's largest private operator of public schools.

Although Montebello made impressive gains on state and national tests under a dynamic former city principal, Templeton and Gilmor performed unevenly at best on tests given a year ago. Templeton's CTBS scores dropped on those tests in five of 10 categories -- in some cases reversing progress the West Baltimore school had made when it was being run by the city.

Ronald A. Peiffer, an assistant state superintendent, said yesterday that Edison's increases boil down to one thing: good, solid instruction.

"They are indicative of the strong focus that's been placed on instruction at all three of the schools," he said. "It's particularly gratifying given the fact that these schools were once among the lowest-performing schools in the city."

Citywide CTBS results are expected to be released this spring.

Saying that the schools' academic performance had been too low for too long, the state education board took over Templeton, Gilmor and Montebello elementaries in 2000 and handed them to Edison as part of the board's first experiment in school privatization.

The state's action was seen as a statement that it was serious about holding districts accountable on the Maryland School Performance Assessment Program exams.

The state allowed Edison to add a sixth-grade program at each site this academic year, increasing the local enrollment to more than 2,000 children.

Edison officials, who are hoping to expand their presence in Baltimore and other cities across the country, celebrated the news yesterday.

"We think it demonstrates that significant progress can clearly be made when there's a strong game plan for schools," said Rich O'Neill, a regional vice president with the company. "It really ought to give hope to all sorts of people who deal with the issue of low-performing schools and what models can work" to improve them.

O'Neill said the state has begun to see a "powerful return" on its investment in the takeover of failing schools.

"This is basically a reflection of the program jelling, of all the hard work coming together and of people at the [three school] campuses getting their arms around the way the program ought to be working," he said. "And it clearly is."

Hundreds of parents, teachers and children from the three schools rallied at Montebello last month in support of an Edison middle school. Another rally in support of an Edison middle school is planned for this afternoon before the school board's regularly scheduled meeting at school system headquarters on North Avenue.

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