Bringing the Tutors In-House

San Jose borrows from the program but succeeds on its own.

Five out of eleven underperforming schools in the San Jose Unified School District improved their test scores enough in 2007 to get off the list of those deemed failing by No Child Left Behind. But outside tutoring companies had nothing to do with their success.

Instead, in-house tutoring, more training for teachers, and tweaking classroom curricula at the low-performing schools proved the keys to improvement, administrators said.

One of the schools was Grant Elementary, where 90 percent of the students qualified for supplemental tutoring from an outside provider. For four years, nearly one quarter of these students used outside tutors. School test scores improved, but not enough for Grant to meet its yearly improvement targets set by No Child Left Behind. “Many of these programs, unless they’re aligned with school strategies, they’re just not effective,” said Rosa Molina, the district’s assistant supervisor.

So in 2005, the district quit the federal tutoring program and patched together funds from a variety of sources to pay for training, in-house tutoring, and new curriculum planning. Grant teachers began tutoring students after school on their own time, and test scores improved even more. “They know the kids,” said Cecilia Barrie, the school’s principal since 2004. “They behave better for them.”

Barrie said the teachers at Grant did “whatever it took” to get the students to improve. That meant using school funds to pay for summer school, Saturday academies, and student assessments every eight weeks.

Molina said the state provided a framework for improving, but the schools did the real work. “We had to roll up our sleeves and we started working,” she said.

Grant Elementary had to adapt its curriculum to the high number of students who needed help on English language proficiency. “Ninety percent are Hispanic,” said Barrie. “Sixty percent are English learners. We do intensive English as a Second Language classes. Those are part of the normal school day.”

Kids moving in and out of Grant with frequency and parents who are “not overwhelmingly” involved also posed challenges to improving scores in both language arts and math. Even though Grant Elementary has hit the adequate yearly progress targets for two years running, Barrie said she has no plans to loosen her grip.

Adequate yearly progress targets increase each year by around ten percentage points. Federal law aims to have all students proficient in English and math by 2014, and the targets are meant to pace schools.

“It’s a moving target,” Barrie said. “We hope we are on track.”

So far, they are. Grant students hit the adequate yearly progress targets with nearly 20 percentage points to score in both language arts and math this year.

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