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Broad Effort Closes Grade 3 Achievement Gap

By channeling the efforts of teachers, community members, and parents, staff members at Maryland's Viers Mill Elementary School were able to close the achievement gap in reading and math at the third grade level. Included: Descriptions of a community effort to improve achievement.

Efforts by a Silver Spring, Maryland, elementary school have earned it local and now national honors, according to a story in The Gazette.

"Viers Mill Elementary School, recognized last year [2004] as a county model, has now proven nationally that schools can overcome the challenges of lower-income students and their proficiency in English to achieve academic success," the story noted. "The U.S. Department of Education honored Viers Mill with a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School of 2005 award, given to schools that make significant progress in closing the 'achievement gap' between well-off and disadvantaged students, or schools at which students achieve at very high levels."

Viers Mill qualifies on both counts, said J. Stephen O'Brien, director of Recognition Programs in the Office of Communications and Outreach with the U.S. Department of Education when he visited the school. 'It's one of the few of the thousands of schools in the country that is as successful,' O'Brien said in the news story. 'There is almost no difference between [the test scores of] disadvantaged and middle class students - that's almost unheard of.'"

The article continued, "Of the more than 500 students at Viers Mill, 62 percent qualify for free and reduced-price meals and about 29 percent are in the English for Speakers of Other Languages program. After years of consistent improvements, Viers Mill third- and fifth-graders made outstanding strides in 2004, outperforming all Maryland Title I schools in math and leading county Title I schools in reading, according to Maryland State Department of Education data. Federally funded Title I schools have a high population of low-income students. The school continued its success the next year, showing some of the best results among the most economically and linguistically challenged children, according to a 2005 MCPS report.

"Students with limited English proficiency, a group that traditionally has difficulty with standardized tests, continued to make strides last year," the article noted. "About 90 percent of those grade 3 students scored proficient or above in reading and 85 percent scored at that level in math, according to the MCPS report. The reading gap among black and white students in grade 3 closed as both groups reached a proficiency rate of 100 percent."

Viers Mill staff and administrators attribute the school's success over recent years to a balanced community effort. That includes support by teachers, staff, parents, and students, as well as private contributors who supported a rigorous academic curriculum and activities, such as mentoring and after-school reading programs for students, parent tutorials and family learning nights. It's not any one of those factors more than another, said Jenny Walker, a Viers Mill kindergarten teacher, in the article. Staff could not develop effective teaching strategies and curriculums without the support of the school's administration, which provides the time and the training to get the job done.


Some of the information in this article comes from the U.S. Department of Education. To learn more about this article, you might read:

  • Viers Mill honored by U.S. Dept. of Ed.
    This news article appeared in The Gazette on September 21, 2005. Note: This link was live at the time of publication. Some newspaper Web sites require registration. Others retain complete news stories for a limited time.

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