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In addition to providing schools with math and science
mentors (at a cost of well over $1 million per year), the
Collaborative has launched a campaign to improve student
reading and writing skills in its member schools.
The mentors usually are welcomed with open arms by
elementary and middle schools but they get a mixed reception
in the high schools.
“Some high schools don’t want to be involved,” said
Veronica Hernandez, a high school mentor in the El Paso
School District. “Some teachers don’t see the need because
their students are doing well on TAAS, and others like
teaching calculus to small classes of the best students. They
don’t want any part of the idea that all students should be
taking these classes that get them ready for college.”
The Collaborative holds continuing leadership institutes
for principals, subject matter workshops for teachers,
meetings with parent groups and meetings with university
and community college officials, to align the high school
curriculumwith college admissions requirements.
The result of all this activity has been a sharp rise in test
scores and other measures of achievement.
Among the 80 schools participating fully in the program,
the gap between the passing rate for white students and
passing rates for African American and Hispanic students on
state-mandated math and reading tests has been reduced by
almost two-thirds in the last five years.
Five years ago, 15 schools in the three participating
districts were classified by the state as “low performing,”
but no schools carry that designation today. The number of
“recognized” or “exemplary” schools identified by the state has
increased from a handful to more than 75.
Although most of the work to date has been in elementary
and middle schools, there are also signs of improvement in
the high schools. Dropout rates are still high but there have
been steady increases in numbers of students taking algebra 2,
chemistry, physics and other college preparatory classes.
“The kids have gotten the message that this isn’t going
away, and they’re starting to do the work,” saidMonica
Martinez, a Brown University graduate who has returned to
El Paso to work with the Collaborative.
The Ysleta school district now requires all high school
juniors, most of whom come from low-income families, to
take the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT)
and to apply to at least one college. If a family
cannot afford the SAT fee, the district pays it.
“In the past, too many of these kids
thought college was out of reach,” Navarro
said. “Ysleta decided to tell students, ‘Look,
there’s no mystery here—you take the classes,
you take the SATs and you have a good
chance of getting to college.’ I think it’s a
terrific idea.”
These gains have not come without some
pain.
The
Chronicle of Higher Education
recently
reported that in the Ysleta district, more than
half of the 51 principals and two-thirds of
the 3,000 teachers either have retired or have
taken jobs in other school districts in the last
six years.
Navarro thinks the numbers are “exaggerated”
but concedes that the radical changes involved in the
Collaborative’s approach to school reformmake many people
uncomfortable.
“Any time you try to bring about real change, some people
are going to be upset,” she said. “When you raise these issues,
some people will ask, ‘What have we been doing? What are
University of Texas-El Paso President Diana S. Natalicio
supports the Collaborative’s work enthusiastically.
In the three
participating school
districts, two-thirds
of the children
come from low-
income families and
half enter the first
grade speaking only
limited English.
92-93
93-94
100
80
60
40
94-95
95-96
96-97
97-98
White
Latino
African American
Pass Rates on Reading Proficiency Exams
Among students at schools participating in the El Paso Collaborative for Academic Excellence