Mailbag: District can improve API scores in low-scoring schools

As a teacher at Jim Thorpe Fundamental School in Santa Ana, the top scoring Santa Ana Unified School District school with an API of 901, I have some suggestions for the Newport Mesa Unified School District.

There are several components involved in raising API scores, none of which include parent education as discussed in Wednesday's letter to the editor, "Parents' education not a top factor in API."

These components include, but are not limited to:

•Rigorous daily instruction;

•Adjusting academic instruction to the California state standards;

•Intervention pull out for students who are not proficient;

•Scholarly expectations for students who must achieve to their potential;

•Grade level collaboration and curriculum planning;

•A strong independent reading program, which is demanding and pushes students to read more, using programs like Accelerated Reader;

•Requiring parents to participate in the educational process by signing a contract.

I feel that rigorous daily instruction is the No. 1 key to academic achievement. Teachers need to commit to direct instruction, pulling homogeneous groups, daily English language development for ELD students and a full day of back-to-back academic work.

There just isn't any time for activities that do not directly correspond with standards-based instruction. Let's face it, the standards for each grade level are overwhelming, and if they are not all covered by spring when the standardized test is administered, the students will not excel.

I used to feel that teaching to the standards was too rigorous and did not promote a love for learning. I no longer fell that way. Students want to be successful and are willing and able to put forth effort to achieve and do well. They just need a consistent amount of daily encouragement and once they start to achieve, they want to move forward, and they will get it.

Daily, small-group intervention pull out programs lasting 30 to 45 minutes for low-achieving students focusing on language arts standards where students struggle is a great way to individualize instruction.

Teachers need to collaborate at least twice a month to discuss strategies that are working in their classroom at their grade level. They also need to work closely with the following grade level to prepare students to continue successful academic achievement.

A remarkable tool in academic success is a strong, independent reading program like Accelerated Reader, which I believe NMUSD has. Daily independent reading is crucial to student success. For example, my third-grade students are expected to read two chapter books a week at their level and take an AR test on that book and pass the test with a score of 80% or above. At first, this is a major challenge for many students, who are more interested in TV or video games. However, after a few months of pushing and rewarding them when they meet their personal reading goals, 90% or more of my students begin to love reading, which will last a lifetime.

Finally, a requirement at Thorpe is for parents to sign a contract, which basically says that they will make sure students do their homework, read every night and exhibit scholarly behavior at school. If students fail to complete their homework and read every night, they are given three chances; after that, a parent conference is called. If the issue continues, an additional parent conference is called and so on. I have found that after two parent conferences are required at school, parents and students get their homework done. The same holds true for behavior issues. I find that constant communication with parents through emails, notes and phone calls greatly improves student academic achievement.

Students want to learn and excel in school. They want to feel good about what they are doing and just need a little guidance. Finding each student's strength has always worked for me. Once I find what they are good at, I run with it and they blossom. It does take an extreme commitment to individual academic success, but it also provides immense rewards and a sense of accomplishment for the student and the teacher. If I can help low-scoring Costa Mesa in any way, I would be happy to do so because I have resided in this wonderful town for 17 years.

Elizabeth Barnes

Costa Mesa

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