- The Washington Times - Friday, October 31, 2003

Sixteen schools in Maryland, Virginia and the District are among the country’s 233 “blue ribbon” schools that were honored yesterday by the U.S. Education Department for academic superiority or having demonstrated the most dramatic gains in student achievement over the past several years.

Three D.C. schools made the list, including Horace Mann Elementary in Wesley Heights, which has been hailed twice before as an exemplary school over the past decade.

Eight schools in Virginia, including Meadowland Elementary in Sterling, and five in Maryland, including Jones Elementary in Severna Park, also made the blue-ribbon list.

“In keeping with the principles of the No Child Left Behind Act, we will reward schools based on student achievement results, not process,” Education Secretary Rod Paige said of the department’s revamped program for selecting exemplary schools.

He said the schools that were chosen for the blue ribbon “are meeting our mission to ensure every child learns and no child is left behind.” The 233 schools are “national models of excellence that others can learn from,” Mr. Paige said.

The federal blue-ribbon program recognizes schools that score in the top 10 percent of state assessments of student academic proficiency or that make the most dramatic improvement in student performance with at least 40 percent of their students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

They include public, privateand religiously affiliated schools. St. Bernadette School in Silver Spring was the only private school chosen from the District, Maryland or Virginia.

Unique among the blue-ribbon schools, Horace Mann Elementary is partnered with nearby American University and draws all but 5 percent of its student population from the Northwest neighborhood around the university.

Principal Sheila Ford is a member of the National Assessment Governing Board, whose National Assessment of Educational Progress measures student progress in reading and mathematics under the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001.

Leading the nation were California, with 38 blue-ribbon schools, and Texas, with 25.

At least a third of schools submitted by states for national blue-ribbon status must have 40 percent minority, handicapped or low English proficiency students from poor families.

Schools can qualify for the blue-ribbon rating even if a large percentage of students are not proficient in reading and math, as long as they have shown dramatic improvement in narrowing the achievement gap between white and minority students.

At an education-reform conference at the Capitol Hilton Hotel in the District yesterday, Mr. Paige said the national achievement gap is still “serious, devastating.”

“Many in the educational community refuse to recognize this gap, that reform of the current education system is needed and that there is no justification or excuse for this state of affairs,” the secretary said at the forum organized by the Manhattan Institute of New York City.

Mr. Paige said the No Child Left Behind Act is “radical surgery, massive reform [that] requires equity, justice and inclusion. … For the first time in the history of our country, every state in our nation is now accountable for educating all its children. … Tests that evaluate a student’s progress are the keys to serving them. And this year every state now has a plan in place to hold states accountable and create an environment where teachers and students can thrive.”

He predicted that within a generation the No Child Left Behind Act “will be viewed as visionary and empowering” because “we will see remarkable progress. Student achievement will be up.”

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