10/10/06, Berkeley, CA–An elementary school in Honolulu, Hawaii, whose staff has worked closely with the Consortium on Reading Excellence (CORE), has seen dramatic improvements in the reading test scores of its students. These improvements led the school to boost its ranking from number 213 in the 2004 ratings of the state’s 259 public schools to number 72 in 2006, according to Honolulu Magazine. This whopping increase caused the magazine to name Ala Wai Elementary School as the state’s “most improved elementary school,” based on the overall gains made in its reading and math test scores, along with advances in student, teacher, and parent perceptions. The magazine ranked all Hawaii schools using data from the Hawaii Department of Education School Quality Survey and Hawaii State Assessment Mathematics and Reading Test Scores.
Although Ala Wai Elementary, which prides itself on “serving students from Molilili to Waikiki,” is situated next to Ala Wai Park in downtown Honolulu, the reality of its setting is far from scenic. It is located near the Hawaii Convention Center, in a neighborhood bustling with small shops, restaurants, and convenience stores. Because there are few single-family homes in the area, nearly all of its 500 students live in nearby apartment buildings and most walk to school every morning. More than 50% of the students are eligible for free or reduced lunches. About 75% are classified as Asian, while nearly all of the remaining 25% are White. Approximately 33% live in single-parent households. There are 33 teachers working at Ala Wai, serving a student body in which 33% of students have limited English proficiency and 10% are categorized as Special Needs.
Reading scores of students have improved dramatically since the 2001-2002 school year, when only 24% of fifth graders tested as proficient on the state’s reading test. By the end of the 2004-2005 school year, 59% of fifth graders were judged to be proficient readers. There were similarly striking changes in the numbers of students who were deemed to be “well below average” in reading proficiency. While 27% of fifth grade students fell into this category in the 2002-2003 school year, by the end of the 2004-2005 school year only 5% were found to be well below average.
These results are extremely gratifying for Ala Wai Elementary and for CORE, which was retained by the school specifically to improve the reading skills of its students. After the school staff had selected a scientifically-based reading curriculum, a CORE consultant assisted the school in the implementation. She trained all of the school’s K-3 teachers in the new approach, including special education and ESL teachers. The CORE consultant met regularly with the principal, curriculum coordinator, and Reading First mentor teacher to review the implementation plan.
The test-score improvements demonstrate that the new reading program paid off quickly. The school’s principal, Charlotte Unni, says: “We really needed the affirmation that this brings to all the hard work of the staff and students. We definitely benefited from the help of our CORE consultant. She was professional, knowledgeable in the curriculum and in the change process, and skilled at working with all learning levels. She worked well with administrators and teacher leaders, pushing at the right time. We would not have been able to make the progress we did without the guidance and support from our CORE consultant.”
Further gratification for Unni and for the school staff came recently with Ala Wai’s selection as one of 15 schools chosen statewide for a study of “best practices” that is being sponsored by the Hawaii Business Roundtable.
The mascots of Ala Wai Elementary are the “Menehunes,” named for a mythic band of little people who are said to live in the deep forests and hidden valleys of the islands, far from the eyes of normal-sized humans. With their rapid rise to academic prominence and the public recognition of their accomplishments, the Menehunes of Ala Wai aren’t in hiding anymore. In fact, these “little people” are more than living up to their school motto: “Dream Big and Make It Happen!”
Bill Honig, President and former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, founded CORE in 1995. CORE serves as an advisor to K-12 schools, school districts, and states on the implementation of literacy instruction validated by scientifically-based reading research. Through technical advice, professional development, and onsite implementation support, the company builds the capacity of its clients to achieve sustained literacy achievement.
Visit www.corelearn.com to find out more information and to register.