Riverton students' test scores surge in two-year period

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PORTLAND — School officials say Riverton Elementary has made “significant gains” in academic achievement since it was identified two years ago as underachieving by state and federal governments.

New England Common Assessment Program test results released last week by the school district show improvement in reading and math in grades three through five.

Riverton received a $3.4 million federal school improvement grant to make changes to improve test scores. School officials say the growth in achievement coincides with significant changes supported by the grant.

In October 2010, 36 percent of Riverton third-graders were proficient in reading, according to NECAP scores.  A year later, 65 percent of third-graders were proficient in reading.

The percentage of Riverton fourth-graders who were proficient in reading rose from from 35 percent to 47 percent, while the percent of proficient fifth-graders increased from 35 percent to 58 percent.

The percentage of third-grade English learners who scored proficient in reading rose from 26 percent to 34 percent. In fourth grade the percentage rose from 16 percent to 33 percent and increased from 21 percent to 27 percent in grade five.

Riverton students also showed improvement in math skills as measured by NECAP. The number of third-graders who are proficient in math rose from 24 percent in 2009 to 48 percent lat year, an increase of 100 percent.

The percentage of Riverton fourth-graders who are proficient in math rose to 53 percent from 31 percent, and the percentage of proficient fifth-graders rose from 33 to 39 percent.

David Galin, chief academic officer for Portland Public Schools, said school officials are “incredibly impressed” with the work of Riverton staff and students.

“We’ve worked to create a culture of achievement,” he said.

Riverton Principal Jeanne Malia said changes at the school include an increased focus on ongoing professional development focused on literacy, technology and the needs of English language learners. About half of Riverton students are English language learners.

Other changes at the school include regular meetings of teachers that focus on collaboration on learning activities; new state-of-the-art technology such as iPads for staff; pre-kindergarten for families in the neighborhood; redesign of the Parent Center to allow families to learn more about academic, social skills and enrichment programs; and moving the school’s start time to allow for an additional 40 minutes of learning.

Malia said the school also held NECAP rallies last September to focus students’ attention on the test and to provide test-taking strategies. The rallies included pom-poms and chants of the school’s motto,”Yes we can, yes we will.”

The extra time built into the school day is used for activities such as specialized reading services, research club, physical education, karate and a world language club. Students also eat breakfast together in their classrooms.

“That’s been a key piece in terms of getting them ready for the day,” Malia said.

Galin said district officials are hopeful the success at Riverton will continue and that they are working aggressively to encourage families in the neighborhood to keep their children at the school instead of sending them to others in the district. 

He said expanding the pre-school program to attract more neighborhood families might lead to more parents choosing to keep their children there for elementary school.

Kate Snyder, chairwoman for the Board of Education, said Riverton’s achievement is “really, really exciting” and could provide examples of initiatives and program to use in other Portland schools.

“Hopefully this is a way the whole district can benefit from the success at Riverton,” she said.

Gillian Graham can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or ggraham@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @grahamgillian.

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