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Commentary: Cause for Celebration at Marymount of Santa Barbara

Test scores soar at the school, with many of the students ranking among the nation's elite

Parents have so many meetings to go to the first couple of months of school that they’re tempted at times to miss just one to spend a quiet evening at home after a long fall day.

Despite that, Marymount of Santa Barbara parents showed up in large numbers recently for an evening meeting to hear the truth about Marymount’s 2009 ERB (Education Records Bureau) test results.

The ERBs are a test frequently used to measure a school’s success in teaching academics. Marymount has had a history of very good test results, but new rumors circulating among the school community had sounded too overblown to be true. As Deborah David, head of the school, thoroughly showed gathered parents in a colorful PowerPoint presentation, sometimes rumors are true.

One would have thought it was a New Year’s Eve party. Parents blew festive noise makers and cheered at the news that 96 percent of all the children tested on the ERB’s WRaP test of essay writing scored at or above the achievement level of their independent school peers nationwide. In the eighth grade, 72 percent of the Marymount students were in the highest achievement stanines for independent schools, and none of the seventh- or eighth-grade students scored below the national independent school norm.

In math and reading comprehension, 83 percent of the elementary-level students scored above the independent school average, while at the middle school, 80 percent of the students were at or above the level of other independent school students. With those scores, it’s not surprising that 60 percent of Marymount’s students in grades 3 through 8 qualified for the Johns Hopkins Program for Talented Youth, an organization offering special programs, classes and opportunities for students scoring in the top 5 percent of the nation.

David explained how a study of strengths and weaknesses of the past curriculum and improved instructional strategies led to the year’s remarkable ERB results. Careful, thoughtful and sometimes tedious analysis followed by targeted interventions helped teachers address areas of weakness while never stooping to “teach to the test.” Students also learned concentration techniques and test-taking strategies from Marymount’s very capable learning specialist, Matt Kustura. Clearly, the diligence paid off.

Around campus, one can’t help but look for signs of strain in the kids. Are they being pushed too hard? Are they a stressed group of children immersed in an overly academic or test-driven environment? Do they have time for fun? Or time just to be kids?

This day, lower-school students are running around the playground in the most colorful outfits imaginable. It’s Mismatch Day, and the students have shed their usual uniforms for the most eye-shocking couture combinations imaginable. Stripes, plaids, polka dots and paisleys abound, but most prevalent are their smiles.

One would never know just by looking that these lighthearted, well-adjusted Marymount students that they actually stand among the nation’s academic elite.

— Hilary Doubleday is a Marymount parent.

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