Test Scores Jump Due to Literacy Program

WEST COVINA - With a nearly 200-point jump in state test scores, Giano Intermediate School officials credit the success to a caring group of teachers and students.

One former principal, Steve Hansen, and Giano's current principal, Patricia Cuesta, addressed fellow teachers and administrators at the two-day Achievement Gap Summit hosted by Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of public instruction, last week.

For the pair, the summit provided an opportunity to discuss best practices and share the daily work of teaching the school's English Learner population - or students whose first language is not English, which has been a priority focus in the last few years.

About 500 students out of the total enrollment of 860 are classified as English Learners.

In 1999, the Rowland Unified school's Academic Performance Index score was 552 - well below the target score of 800. In 2007, the score was 732 and the school has met or exceeded the federal targets set under No Child Left Behind, said Cuesta.

In 2004, the Giano Outreach to Achieve Literacy program was launched to help English Learner students - specifically those who are still struggling with comprehension.

Hansen, who was principal of the school from 1992 to 2007, said the GOAL program was originally offered as an after-school program in its first year. It is now offered as part of the regular school day and 150 students are enrolled.

Students who are not in the GOAL program are given extra tutoring before and after school, Cuesta said.

Hansen said that while these students tested "proficient" in English on the battery of state exams, they may struggle with academic English - difficult vocabulary words or unfamiliar math and science terminology.

"We had to focus on the areas where they were weak in," he said.

Hansen said that educators don't realize that students with language difficulties still need support. Students may test well on an English exam one year, but may do poorly the following year.

The GOAL program teachers used various writing prompts to help improve students writing skills and the other priority was reading comprehension. Additionally, the GOAL program emphasizes college and obtaining a higher degree.

For some students, they may be the first in their family to graduate from high school or the first to attend college.

For students in the GOAL program, they are kept under the watchful eyes of the school's counselors who will monitor their progress in their other classes.

Cuesta, the school's new principal, said she is not frustrated by the challenges that come with educating these students.

"I think if there was GOAL when I was in school, I would probably be in those classes," she said.

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