Progress Elementary’s standardized test scores are up.
In a quiet success story spanning the last seven years, the school’s scores have steadily climbed. Reading scores for fourth graders have risen 21 points; language is up 17 points; and math is up 33 points.
In 1990, Progress fourth-graders scored a total battery of 23 percentile on the state-required tests. The next year, the total score was 37. In 1992, came a 43, then a 46. Last year, the total battery hit 55. And this year, 58.
“Progress suffered the wrath of the press and folks who look at one particular test,” said principal Jim Berry. “I’m going to tell you, about six or seven or eight years ago, we kind of got tired of that same routine.”
The change grew from a cross-section of new programs, ideas and expectations, Berry said.
“I’d love to tell you that we’ve found the big sweeping change.” Instead Berry said the significant changes are subtle ones.
They range from hiring teachers with diverse ways of teaching, to short daily reviews of math and language, to working more closely with parents, to protecting class time.
“We knew we had a lot of classroom interruptions - announcements made throughout the day, events scheduled that were not particularly tied to class work, assemblies. As a staff, we took a look and said, ‘We’ve got to streamline some of that,”’ Berry said.
Better teamwork among staff and increased extracurricular programs have helped too, said Wanda Jeffries, whose oldest son entered Progress in 1988.
“I like it. When you go in and ask something of the staff, whether as a parent or for PTA … I get results,” Jeffries said.
The school also was remodeled. Before the 1988-89 renovation, the principal said, teachers had “a feeling of oppression, of beating our brains out in this broken-down school.”
Berry admits he has no hard data linking the two. But he believes that better lighting and air circulation, new colors calculated to give students a good outlook and the overall fresh appearance of the school combined to raise the spirits of teachers and students.
The neighborhood just south of Interstate 90, meanwhile, has not changed. Many students come from working class families, some in difficult circumstances.
“This is the nicest place that some of our kids come to all day,” Berry said.
Progress also runs a program to identify and support children at risk of school failure.
“We have a group that meets - kind of like a religion - every Thursday morning: myself, the school counselor, the school psychologist and four or five teachers who have dedicated themselves to finding support for kids who need it,” the principal said.
The seven years of change has driven Progress out of the bottom level of Central Valley elementary schools, to within the top two or three scoring schools, Berry said.
It’s an unusual success story, partly because it has been gradual, said Carol Peterson, elementary education director for Central Valley.
“You just don’t see this kind of growth that often,” Peterson said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Graphic: Valley test scores