Neediest Students RiSE Academically with Help of District’s Top Teachers

Fifth grade student Ruben Ramos used to struggle with English/Language Arts on standardized tests. His proficiency level was ‘Far Below Basic,’ which is the lowest band on the California Standards Test (CST) performance level scale. Last year, Ruben was enrolled in the District’s RiSE program, where he received intensive tutoring from then-Casillas Elementary teacher Ellen Lahlum.

Ruben zoomed up the academic charts—he scored ‘Advanced’ in English/Language Arts on last year’s CST. The meteoric growth is a source of pride for Ruben, his family, and the Casillas Elementary staff.

“Ruben was a struggling student, as were all the RiSE students, which is why they were selected,” said Casillas Principal Emiko Nakamura. “We gave each of them an opportunity in a small group setting, with very focused attention from a very well-qualified teacher. It works.”

The District began RiSE (Response to Intervention for Student Excellence) in 2012-13 with the enrollment of 1,000 students from 35 schools who had scored in the lowest bands of performance on standardized tests; the students were paired with District teachers who had a track record of impressive student academic achievement.

While Ruben accomplished one of the highest year-over-year improvements in the program, he was not alone. More than half the students in the program improved their CST performance at least one level in ELA, with more than 100 students improving two levels, and several others jumping three or four levels of proficiency. In moving from Far Below Basic to Advanced, Ruben improved four levels.

“It is both rare and very difficult for students at the lowest two performance levels to improve because they have so many skill deficits,” said Robert Cochran, the District’s Research and Evaluation Projects Specialist. “We are amazed to see students who were Far Below Basic in 2012 who went on to score Advanced in 2013. We are looking forward to another great year of RiSE.”

For his part, Ruben says he knew he was going to do well after the tutoring he received in RiSE. “Ms. Lahlum really explained to us in an easy to understand way, and she really cared about us,” he said.

Students met with teachers for free tutoring in small groups before or after school. After 15 weeks of helping students with academic skills, tutors and schools were extremely optimistic about the improvement the students had made.

Chula Vista Hills Elementary fifth grade teacher Crystal Sutton said the experience could not have been more positive. She worked with seven sixth grade RiSE students, three of which were from her class.

“The RiSE program became that extra time that you wished you had in your classroom,” Sutton said. “Our students were already receiving small group instruction in the classroom, but were missing some key pieces that were just not being met during the school day. During our three hours a week, we spent all of our time filling in the missing pieces as well as reviewing and/or front-loading information that they would need academically in the classroom.

“RiSE became a time of day that the students looked forward to, and no longer dreaded. They felt more successful in the classroom, and the progress was outstanding to watch. … As a teacher, it was assuring to know that we were sending our RiSE students off to middle school just a little more prepared. I think that it was a valuable program.”

Mannie Putian, who teaches students at Juarez-Lincoln Elementary with mild to moderately severe special needs, said the RiSE program was effective for the majority of his students enrolled. “Most of my students’ CMA scores went up one level in the area of English/Language Arts,” Putian said. “I attribute that to the data/item analysis our teachers used, the small group instruction which focused on content standards, and our consistent assessment of the standards through weekly quizzes. I enjoyed my time in RISE.”

This year, teachers in RiSE will work to improve student literacy as the program transitions to the Common Core State Standards. For students like Ruben, the program has already demonstrated its worth. Ruben (in photo below, left) and Juarez-Lincoln Elementary student Carlos Enrique De La Torre (in photo below, right) were each recognized for their achievement and experiences in RiSE at the Board of Education’s November 13, 2013 regular meeting.

“Ruben comes from an amazing family with lots of support at home,” Nakamura said. “They know what he is capable of doing. His teachers have always believed in him. They helped him focus. They helped him identify areas he could work on. He is a smart, smart boy. …It is so gratifying for his RiSE teacher, his fourth grade teacher, and his current fifth grade teacher to see the confidence he has developed. He sees the hard work has paid off. That is exciting for any student.”

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