Today is a red-letter day at Fearn Elementary School in North Aurora.
The school got a passing grade on the 2010 state-mandated school report card, a year after it failed. And it did so even though the bar for passing was raised.
"Our scores are definitely something to cheer about," said Mary Beth Heilmann, a fourth-grade teacher. "The extra work has paid off."
On the 2009 report, the school was deemed to have not made "adequate yearly progress" because two subgroups of students Hispanic and economically disadvantaged scored too low.
"We brainstormed anything and everything we could do" to bring scores up, said Jean McKee, reading specialist at the school.
One of the ideas was to come up with a list of students whose early screenings showed they were at risk of not learning reading. (That screening also showed students who had advanced skills and could benefit from some extra challenges.)
The at-risk students then were closely monitored last school year and given specific help depending on what skill they had trouble with. About 10 children in each grade level ended up on the list. Extra time and manpower be it reading specialists, school librarians, paraprofessionals or parent volunteers was put into the effort.
"We're trying to use every resource we have at our fingertips to support our students," said Principal Michael Smith.
The initial focus was on decoding words, then how to attack and read the word. For some students, there were three weeks of extra lessons on the letter "e" at the end of a word. Even such minor things as handing a struggling a student a book at or near his reading level, so he didn't give up in frustration, helps, said Sue Wredling, a third-grade teacher.
The team also decided there should be a schoolwide, all-grade emphasis on preparing for the state report card test, even in grades that aren't tested, Heilmann said.
"Kids know a lot more of the expectations," she said, including what some of the test directions mean. For example, some of the younger students, seeing the phrase "draw a conclusion," thought they were supposed to draw a picture of something called a conclusion. But first- and second-grade teachers are now using those phrases and teaching kids what "text" and "passage" mean.
About 58 percent of Fearn students are white, 22 percent Hispanic and 7 percent black, according to the 2009 state report card.
Smith performs a balancing act: The interventions are designed and applied to all children, regardless of ethnic or economic status. But he is charged with improving the performance of subgroups of children, including low-income and Hispanic.
"We have to be intentional about who we target," he said. "I get it, but by default it makes it sound like we're segregating."