Schools prepare for big exams

With statewide standardized tests just a few months away, staff at the four Glendale Unified schools designated as Program Improvement campuses are working to reinforce core concepts and reduce achievement gaps.

Glendale and Hoover high schools and Toll and Roosevelt middle schools are the four schools looking to shed the designation.

Program Improvement is a federal designation applied when students miss benchmarks in two consecutive years. It results in stricter oversight of the school with the goal of boosting scores, and in some extreme cases can include overhauling staff.

Program Improvement stems from the No Child Left Behind Act, which required states to establish academic goals for its students. In California, schools are expected to grow proficiency in math and language arts by 11% until they reach full proficiency in 2014.

"California went into the law very aggressively because we want to give our kids a world-class education in the state, and I appreciate that," said Toll Principal Paula Nelson. "But our climb is very steep."

At the middle school level, progress is measured using scores from the California Standards Test — which will be administered to sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders in May — and the California Writing Standards Test — which is administered to seventh-graders in March.

Toll landed in Program Improvement after its Hispanic subgroup, and then its English learning development subgroup, didn't make the annual measurable objectives, Nelson said.

Staff has implemented a two-tiered system in which they are focusing on teaching core principles, enhancing academic vocabulary and assessing mastery of subject matter, Nelson said. Students who are still struggling are then given a double dose of math or English language instruction.

"We knew we had to really work on mathematics at the same time as targeting instruction for students who were in that achievement gap," Nelson said.

At the high school level, the federal government uses California High School Exit Examination scores from 10th-graders only. The test will be administered in March.

Hoover has put in place a series of safeguards in place for 10th-graders to ensure they are prepared for the exam, said Principal Jennifer Earl. The entire grade level was pretested in the fall to determine which students need extra attention.

In addition, some students have been placed in classes where fundamental principles are retaught and reinforced.

"Every parent in the community got a letter that we are a Program Improvement school, and they had the right to go to CV," Earl said. "I am proud to say that only five students took advantage of that. Our community loves our school, and our parents are behind us."

The district is supporting efforts by directing resources to the four schools, Supt. Richard Sheehan said, including adding an assistant principal and English language development expert to Roosevelt Middle School.

One of the challenges is communicating to teachers that it is not enough to teach the subject matter, said Glendale High School Principal Deb Rinder. They must also make sure that students thoroughly understand it.

"It is our moral, ethical and professional responsibility to teach kids what they need to know and be able to accomplish at every grade level in every content area," Rinder said.

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