Portola shines with improved test scores

Although San Mateo County students scored well on California’s standardized tests, few can boast the high scores of Portola Elementary School in the San Bruno Park School District.

Nearly all of the Portola fourth-graders scored at proficient or advanced levels on California’s 2007 Standardized Testing and Reporting test.

Portola is not only the school with the most improved scores, but it tied with North Hillsborough School as the school with the most fourth-graders passing the English and math portions of the exam — 95 percent and 94 percent, respectively.

In 2006, 60 percent of Portola’s fourth-graders passed the English portion of the test, while 67 passed the math portion, according to the California Department of Education.

The fourth grade wasn’t alone: In 2007, 78 percent of its second-graders earned high marks in English and 75 percent in math; 89 percent of its third-graders passed the math portion, and more than half of students in every grade scored at proficient levels or above on both parts of the STAR.

For school administrators, the scores prove that changes implemented this school year have paid off.

“This year, the school community wanted to focus on the relationship the adults had with kids,” said San Bruno Park Superintendent David Hutt. “That, and the kids put their best foot forward on these tests.”

Before the beginning of the 2006-07 school year, San Bruno Park focused funding on adding teacher aides to its classrooms, according to Hutt.

In addition, parents of Portola students contributed more of their time, shrinking the adult-to-student ratio and providing lots of individualized instruction, according to PTA President Robin Paley.

“It’s a really small school,” said Paley of Portola, which enrolled about 200 students in 2006-07. “Everybody knows everyone, and families are pulling together to make it all work.”

Now, the San Bruno Park district is examining whether the model could work at other schools.

At larger schools, however, it may not be practical, according to Cheryl Hightower, associate superintendent in the San Mateo County Office of Education.

“There’s the cost factor, and you also have to make sure those people are well-trained,” Hightower said. “It’s beyond putting extra bodies in the classroom.”

At bigger schools, grouping together kids with similar learning styles and educational difficulties can yield similar academic growth, Hightower added.

“If we can group kids with like difficulties together, we’re able to move them forward in a more efficient way,” she said.

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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