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For Kids Who Need Help, Saturdays Now Back-to-School Days

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In an effort by the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve reading skills in second- and third-graders who scored poorly on state standardized tests and risk being held back, at least 22 San Fernando Valley schools will offer Saturday remedial classes, many beginning today.

The rest will begin within the month.

In total, 275 LAUSD schools will offer free two- to three-hour Saturday classes as part of the district’s $10-million extended learning program to help an estimated 20,000 elementary students who scored at or below the 36th percentile on the Stanford 9 tests. The remedial program also includes tutoring sessions before and after school.

Although individual schools have offered Saturday programs in the past, “This is the first time in LAUSD history that we are offering classes as a district, with a focus on improving students’ reading skills,” said Robert R. Barner, the newly appointed assistant superintendent in charge of student intervention programs.

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In the next few months, Barner said, the district hopes to expand the intervention program to include math classes, and to extend help to kindergartners.

“This is also part of a proactive approach to end social promotion,” Barner said of the practice of advancing students to the next grade despite their lacking the needed skills. To be promoted, students must show they are working at grade level in reading and math, among other subjects, satisfactorily complete classwork and score at or above grade level on standardized tests.

State law requires districts to abolish social promotion by the 2000-01 school year; however, LAUSD plans to end it a year earlier. Up to 60% of elementary and middle school students are at risk of being held back in June 2000 unless they show improvement, district officials said.

Saturday classes are voluntary. Schools notified parents whose children are eligible and explained that classes will have one teacher for every 10 children. In most schools, administrators said, students will be grouped according to skills they need to work on. Examples are vocabulary, comprehension, writing or the relationships between sounds.

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Earlier this month, after 2,500 teachers were trained for the district’s reading intervention programs, LAUSD Supt. Ruben Zacarias ordered an overhaul of materials because they did not meet his requirement of step-by-step phonics instruction.

School officials said this week that all students enrolled in reading intervention programs will be instructed using phonics, which highlights the link between sounds and letters. It will be emphasized in teacher training during upcoming weeks, officials said, and some teachers may be retrained.

At Kittridge Street School in Van Nuys, 160 students begin Saturday school at 9 a.m. today. That’s all but about 20 of the students eligible for the program.

“We’ve had a great response,” Principal Sara Applebaum said. She noted that some parents are not in a position to help their students with reading, for reasons that may include inability to speak English proficiently or having to work several jobs.

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“If we want to improve reading, we have to work together,” she said. “No one can do it alone.”


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