BURTONSVILLE – “Teachers” were the key to Paint Branch High School’s national ranking in advanced placement tests, their students said Wednesday, shortly after the College Board released results.
Educators and bureaucrats were more effusive, calling the results exhilarating, amazing and something to make them proud.
The school led the nation in the number of African Americans receiving a 3 or better (out of a possible 5) on the AP World History exam from the class of 2008 and was recognized by the College Board for increasing AP access to traditionally underserved students.
Paint Branch was a diamond among gems Wednesday, as Maryland took the top spot from New York for the first time since 1955 in the College Board’s “Annual AP Report to the Nation.” The ranking earned the state its second first-place finish in two months in a national education ranking. Maryland’s schools were ranked No. 1 in the nation by Education Week Magazine in January.
Paint Branch teachers Jacqueline Fludd and Jamie Paoloni readily passed the credit along to others — from the students’ hard work, to the dynamic push for enhanced AP programming by administrators.
“What makes it amazing is that we are meeting the needs of our students and seeing them succeed,” said Fludd, who has witnessed the development of an “AP culture” among students.
That culture has been carefully nourished by the administration.
During her eight-year tenure, Principal Jeanette Dixon has seen her school’s participation in AP exams rise from 402 to 1,000 tests taken per year.
But it was the students who pinpointed the catalyst to success: “Our teachers,” they chimed unanimously responding to the credit question.
Fludd and Paoloni dismissed their accomplishments as just the natural outcome of doing their jobs.
“I don’t know that we look at it as something all that difficult to do. We’re teachers, our job is to come and teach the students,” Paoloni said.
Fludd’s mind had already returned to teaching as the announcement ceremony broke up and cameramen dispersed, concerned that she missed her seventh-period class.
“I hope they covered the material I left for them,” Fludd said, carefully navigating the slippery waxed floors to her classroom, her mind already calculating how to catch up on anything missed from the rigorous coursework.
The last bell had rung, and the students had filed out before Fludd made it back to the classroom.
She called out to one, “Get my e-mail?” Another stopped in to borrow a textbook. Out in the hallway, Fludd called out “good job!” to a student who spoke to reporters.
Fludd said she doesn’t think of their program as doing anything special for “underserved populations” because their whole group is so diverse.
“A lot of times people don’t understand the diversity that we embrace and enjoy here in Montgomery County,” said Superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools Jerry D. Weast.
But somehow Paint Branch High School and Montgomery County Public Schools have created opportunities for underserved students to excel, with more than double the rate of high-scoring, black students on AP exams than the state of Maryland and five times the national rate.
Student Garland Christopher is one of those high-achieving students. He wasn’t aware of the AP program until it was recommended by a teacher. He took one AP class last year, but now fits four AP courses into his schedule.
This achievement by Paint Branch High School students and staff comes as the nation refocuses on the goal of ending the achievement gap between whites and minorities with the 2002 enactment of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Duke University Associate Professor Jacob Vigdor said that a period of stagnation occurred in the 1990s where the gap that had been steadily closing since the 1960s did not continue.
While a 2007 Aspen Institute Report found changes instituted through the No Child Left Behind Act were substantial, it concluded they were not enough. The report cited an urgent need for action, after a 2005 national assessment revealed that black 17-year-olds read at the level of 13-year-old white peers.
The system of encouraging rigorous studies while offering plentiful support seems to be working at Paint Branch High School.
Paoloni, who has taught the courses since the AP program began at Paint Branch, has seen students take on the challenge.
“I think they’ve really been told, ‘We believe in you. You can do this. Come take this course,'” said Paoloni. “You know, it’s really hit home.”