How one school reformed itself and saw test scores climb

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In the eight years since Madeleine Maraldi became principal of Washington Irving School on the Near West Side, test scores have been on a strong upward trend. From 1990 to 1996, for example, the percentage of students scoring at or above national averages in reading dipped from 16.6 percent to 16.2 percent but then rose to 30.7 percent; in math, they dipped from 15.3 percent to 10.1 percent but then rose to 21.9 percent.

However, unlike the current administration of the Chicago public schools, Maraldi never focused on test scores. “I have always told my teachers to forget the scores on the Iowa tests,” she says. Instead, Maraldi prodded her staff to shore up their own weaknesses and then made students and parents more responsible by requiring mastery of the 8th-grade curriculum a prerequisite for graduation to high school.

A year ago, John Simmons, president of the consulting firm Participation Associates, interviewed Maraldi about what she did and how she did it. Edited excerpts of that interview can be accessed here.