Abell Salutes: The Barclay-Calvert Experiment

February 1995 / Salutes / Education

The four-year results are promising.

Barclay Elementary School is an urban public school that against the odds is turning out students testing above and well above national levels, and whose scores are even beginning to compare with those of private school students. What became known as “Barclay-Calvert” started out as an experiment and then became a cause. It is now an idea whose time has come.

Four years ago The Abell Founda­tion provided approximately $400,000 to support a collaboration between the highly regarded (and private) Calvert School and Baltimore City’s struggling Barclay Elementary School. Calvert brought to the program its teaching methods, teacher training, curriculum coordination, and a curriculum that stresses mastery of the basics.

A fourth-year evaluation of the program, prepared by Sam Stringfield, Ph.D., Principal Research Scientist, Center for the Social Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University, has recently been released. Here are only some of the findings — and all of them are promising:

  • Absentee rate for Barclay­ Calvert students was 4.0 percent; for students in the years prior to the program, 6.2 percent.
  • The number of Barclay-Calvert students eligible for Chapter 1 services (federal funding for educational support) testing below 32 percent in third grade reading skill (as an example) was 28 students; for the pre-Barclay­ Calvert group testing below 32 percent, 40 students.
  • As for incidence of disciplinary removal (DR), during the 1989-90 school year, the last year before the Barclay-Calvert experiment was begun, the principal reported a total of nine DR’s in grades kindergarten through four. In the four subsequent years, there have been zero DR’s for students enrolled in the Barclay-Calvert.
  • “Data . . . indicates that in every comparison point students in the Barclay-Calvert program have performed at a higher level on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills (CTBS) Total Reading test than have their peers (including brothers and sisters) in the Bar­clay-Pre-Calvert cohorts.”
  • In math, Barclay-Calvert cohorts consistently scored above the national average. Barclay-Calvert students generally outperformed the Barclay-Pre-Calvert cohorts.

“In summary, the Barclay­ Calvert students have made academic gains far above those achieved by the preceding Barclay-Calvert students. The gains have come on two separate norm-referenced tests in the areas of reading, language arts/writing, and math. The differences are education­ ally and statistically significant, and often dramatic. These achievement differences were found in spite of the fact that the two groups of students are from the same community and often from the same families.”

In his report, “Fourth Year Evaluation of the Calvert School Program at Barclay School,” Dr. Stringfield writes that, taken collectively, the progress of achievement at Barclay­ Calvert “indicates a very successful school improvement project.” He then addresses the question, “What factors have contributed to this unusual level of success?”

His conclusions: “Part of the explanation must lie in the more demanding curriculum, the greater content coverage, the integration of content, the increase in writing requirements, the insistence on stu­dents’ reworking projects until they achieve 100 percent correct products, and the consistency of instruction.” He added that the Calvert program “steadfastly clings to proven basics — they avoid going for the latest thing — and uncompromising standards.”

And if, as is surely the case, the program is successful for the children at Barclay-Calvert, then, Baltimore City School Superintendent Dr. Walter Amprey suggests, “The real value of the program is that it shows what is possible for the children of Baltimore City — not just for Barclay, but for more than 100,000 children in the Baltimore City schools.”