DOWNEY — When it comes to educating low-achieving students, Imperial Elementary School is the maverick of the Downey Unified School District.
At Imperial, students who receive instruction under the federally funded Chapter 1 compensatory education program are not removed from the classroom as they are at the district's other schools.
It is a difference that has helped Imperial win recognition as one of the state's top schools which offer compensatory education programs, school officials say.
"They're in there with higher achieving students who are good role models," said Judy Glaister, Imperial's Chapter 1 learning specialist. "There's less disruption of the classroom. There's less of a stigma on them, too."
161 Pupils Qualify
Students who score below the 25th percentile on standardized tests for their grade level at their school qualify for remedial instruction under Chapter 1, a federal program to help low-achieving students. Imperial has 161 students who receive special instruction from Glaister and six instructional aides in its Chapter 1 program, which has a $60,000 budget this year.
Imperial was notified by the state Department of Education last month that it was selected as one of nine exemplary schools out of more than 3,000 in California that offer compensatory education for kindergarten through 12th-grade students.
The schools were judged on six criteria: principal leadership, academic emphasis, instructional effectiveness, classroom environment, monitoring of its programs, and parental, community and district support.
High Ratings in Six Areas
Imperial was one of two schools that stood out by receiving near-perfect, "very good" ratings in all six areas, said Aurora Barrozo, director of the state's Achieving School Project. The other school was Leroy Anderson Elementary School of the Moreland School District in San Jose.
In addition, Imperial was one of seven schools nominated by the state for national recognition of its Chapter 1 program under U.S. Secretary of Education William J. Bennett's Initiative to Improve Chapter 1 Programs, Barrozo said.
"It's evident that it's an environment that breeds achievement," Barrozo said. "You would not think there's anything so unique from what other excellent schools are doing. The difference is their (Imperial's) performance."
Traditionally, schools have offered "pull-out" Chapter 1 programs, in which a teacher will meet outside the regular classroom with a small group of Chapter 1 students, or an instructional aide will work with a single student, for 30 minutes a day.
Kept in Same Classroom
At Imperial, which offers Chapter 1 instruction in math and reading, low-achieving students receive extra help in the same classroom where average and high-achieving students are being taught.
On a recent morning, Chapter 1 instructional aide Carol Kelly gave additional help to a first-grader to increase his word recognition.
"You can do this on your bike," she said, holding up a flash card.
The first-grader, the hood of his blue and gray sweat shirt surrounding his freckled face, answered, "ride."
"A lot of them are very young (developmentally). They're kind of immature and need growth," Kelly said. "A lot of them don't have memory and we work with them on that. We try to develop their attention spans so they can concentrate longer."
Causes Are Varied
The causes of low achievement are varied, but Glaister said a home environment where a child is not exposed to books and other educational materials is a common factor.
Overall, Imperial is one of the top-performing schools in the Downey district. Last year, for example, third graders at Imperial scored well above comparable schools throughout the state on the California Assessment Program tests of reading, written language and mathematics. Imperial students also scored well above the district average.
CAP tests also are administered annually to sixth-grade students, but Imperial has only kindergarten through fifth-grade students.
Imperial's 13 Chapter 1 students who were tested last year also scored well above the district and state averages for Chapter 1 students in reading, writing and math.
Imperial is the only school in the district to implement a full-time, in-class Chapter 1 program, said Shirley Lubin, coordinator of the district's Chapter 1 programs.
Combination of Methods
A pull-out program is used at Ward Elementary School, while five other schools in the district use a combination of pull-out and in-class programs, she said.
Asked whether the district's other schools may use more in-class Chapter 1 instruction, Lubin, said, "We're looking at it at individual schools and some movement has already taken place in that direction."
In Imperial classrooms, students are separated into three groups according to their level of proficiency. Most of the time, Chapter 1 students end up in the low group, where there are few non-Chapter 1 students, teachers said.