October 1, 2008

School Abuzz in Reading, Writing, Math

By Elizabeth Stuart Deseret News

PROVO -- School's been out for two hours, but Provo's Sunset View Elementary is still buzzing with activity. In one room, kindergartners are making caterpillars out of construction paper. In another, second-graders are practicing their reading skills.

"I don't mind staying after school," said one 8-year-old, who gets reading tutoring after hours. "It's fun to learn."

School administrators give the robust after-school program a good share of the credit for helping the school meet the Adequate Yearly Progress standards of No Child Left Behind. Last year, Sunset View failed to meet the federally mandated benchmark.

"Every year we learn more, we allocate our resources differently," said principal Anne-Marie Harrison.

That doesn't mean, however, that it was easy to pull the school up to par. Almost 40 percent of Sunset View's students speak English as a second language, and nearly 60 percent live in poverty.

"It's a challenge to find enough resources to support those really needy children," she said. "We had to have more intervention, additional instruction during the day and more tutoring."

The extra work paid off. As a school, Sunset View raised test scores by 3 percent in both language arts and math, based on Criterion-Referenced Tests administered in the spring. Hispanic students fared even better, scoring 7 to 10 percent higher.

Harrison used a three-step game plan to pass AYP:

-- Teach the students more.

-- Teach the students the right things.

-- Teach the students well.

At Sunset View, this means students spend less time on science and physical education and more time on reading, writing and math. For each grade level, Harrison and her staff have identified specific goals students have to meet. If they fall short of those goals, students are assigned to level-specific breakout groups for a good portion of the day.

"My belief is that the job of the elementary school is to help students become proficient in those key areas," Harrison said. "Right now, students aren't getting high school diplomas because they can't pass a reading, writing and math test. We need to give them a stronger base, earlier."

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