Portola elementary now an open-enrollment school

Low scores for English Language Learners prompts listing

Linda Satchwell
Staff Writer

Plumas Unified School District Superintendent Glenn Harris announced at the July board meeting that C. Roy Carmichael Elementary School in Portola is on the state's list of 1,000 open enrollment schools.

California, wanting to boost its chance for federal funds under the highly competitive Race to the Top program, has come up with a complex formula by which it has determined that 1,000 California schools do not meet certain yearly progress standards.

As a result, parents of students at C. Roy Carmichael will be allowed to apply to enroll their children in any elementary school in the district for the 2011 - 12 year. The deadline for making application for transfer is Jan. 1, 2011.

CRC has already sent out the required letter to parents informing them of this option.

The current state target for Academic Performance Index levels for schools this year is 800. As a result of the open enrollment formula, six of the 1,000 "watched" schools actually have met the desired 800 API score. CRC is one of these.

The reason for this is that within this 800 API score for the whole school, there is one particular population - Hispanic children in the area of language arts - that did not meet "proficiency" level.

There is a "gap" between this population's performance and that of other student groups said CRC principal Edletraud Marquette.

This is due, primarily, to the fact that Hispanic children often are learning a second language at the same time that they're learning subject matter.

Still, the problem is significant, not only because it places the school on a "watched" list, but because CRC has a 25.8 percent Hispanic population, much larger than any other school in the district.

"We need to address that gap," said Marquette. "It shouldn't be accepted as fact. We should always try to reach that goal."

In the 2007 - 08 year, Hispanic students fell short in math. The school scored at or above required levels in 16 of the 17 measurements, however.

The following year, according to Marquette, then principal Rick Kline focused on improving Hispanic children's math scores.

As a result, math scores were at an acceptable level the next year. English language arts scores fell below the required level for that population, however, in the 2008 - 09 school year.

Scores come in during September, and CRC began focusing on this subgroup last year to "close the gap" between this and the rest of the student population according to Marquette.

This year, CRC is expanding its efforts to bring this group up to "proficiency" levels.

Scores for the 2009 - 10 year for all district schools will be available sometime in September. If CRC is still below acceptable levels in language arts, it becomes a first-year program improvement school.

That designation is only used for schools that get Title I, Part A grant funding.

According to the California Department of Education, the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 "requires all states to create academic standards that identify what a child should know and be able to do in kindergarten through grade 12 in English/language arts and mathematics.

"Schools must then test students each year to determine if they are proficient in these subjects. Each school is reviewed annually . . to determine if students at that school are making adequate yearly progress (AYP) ...

"When reviewing the progress of schools in the district, the state looks at the school as a whole and subgroups of students. (Hispanic students are one of these subgroups.)

"Targets are set for the percent of students scoring proficient, and that target increases each year with the expectation that all students will score proficient by the year 2014. Every school and subgroup is also expected to increase its API each year . . .

"Only schools that receive Title 1 Part A funds and do not make AYP for two years in a row are identified for PI.

"Each PI school must take certain steps to give parents choices concerning their students' education and to improve the school's performance."

CRC has implemented a variety of strategies directed at helping this group of students improve language arts skills.

The school has implemented a new kindergarten program called "Gift of Time." It's a two-year kindergarten designed to give children more time to master required skills for that level.

In first grade, students who need extra help in English language arts are placed in the Reading Recovery program.

This intervention is good for helping the struggling English Language Learners, because it is one-on-one for 30 minutes a day, and it works from the individual student's level.

For example, if he's still working on sight words and phrasing fluency (reading like we speak, rather than slow and choppy), that's the focus.

It also works from a student's strengths. If he looks at pictures in a book to help him read, the Reading Recovery teacher builds on that strength, said Colleen Griffin, who teaches Reading Recovery at CRC.

Self-correcting is encouraged. If a student reads a sentence and it makes no sense, she's encouraged to think about meaning and context, to come up with a correct reading.

In addition, last year the school adopted the Comprehensive Early Literacy Learning/Extended Literacy Learning program.

This year, all CRC teachers are trained and using this program, which is very helpful with ELL students.

Struggling students learn skills such as decoding in a group of approximately three students, while more advanced groups work on comprehension strategies or vocabulary extension.

The Accelerated Reader program also helps ELL students as it requires students to read by themselves at their own level. Students receive prizes for reaching their individual reading goal each trimester. "We want to foster the love of reading for our ELL students," said Marquette.

Two new assessment tools have been incorporated this year. Diagnostic Online Reading Assessment is a tool that's very helpful for ELL students in the language arts.

Students work individually at the computer. As they do tasks, DORA adjusts the level of the tasks depending on whether the student answers successfully or not.

Upon completing the work set, DORA presents a printout assessment of the student's level on word analysis skills, decoding skills, comprehension, vocabulary and more.

CRC also has purchased the accompanying intervention tool, Unique Reader, using its site funds said Marquette. Unique Reader is an intervention tool that is directly tied into the student's DORA assessment.

If, for example, a student needs additional work on word analysis, Unique Reader provides specific tasks that will help build that skill, another tool that will benefit ELL students.

In addition, CRC has a very dedicated bilingual aide, Marcie Tejeda, who works with ELL students both in the classroom, when there is a large enough group in one class, and by pulling students out of class to work in small groups.

Spanish-speaking parents know to call her with their school concerns. Parents even call her at home said Marquette.

CRC also provides many forms, such as Individualized Education Plans, as well as the school newsletter, in Spanish.

Finally, because attendance is so important, the attendance clerk phones home when any CRC student is missing from school to enquire about the absence. Marquette offers rewards for good attendance, as well.

Finally, Marquette meets with teachers once a month (seven times during the school year) to discuss the progress of struggling students. They discuss the student's "response to intervention." If one method doesn't work, then they decide to try something else.

Assessment and accountability are key. "Instruction is assessment driven," said Marquette.

"We are a good school ... this (open enrollment edict) isn't a catastrophe ... There's not a single school that can't improve. We have a really wonderful base, we just need to keep working."

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