BY CHARLES WHISNAND

cwhisnand@porterville

When it comes to socio-economically disadvantaged Hispanic students' reading skills — and the challenges faced — the Porterville Unified School District more than holds its own when compared to other districts in the state.

PUSD ranked in the top 20 percent in the state when it came to the performance of its socio-economically disadvantaged Hispanic students' reading skills. This despite the district having one of the largest populations of high needs students in the state.

The data was compiled by the California Reading Coalition. The organization stated it compiled the data on socio-economically disadvantaged Hispanic students because it believe that's a good indicator of how districts are doing as a whole with all students.

With 88 percent of its students considered to be high needs students, PUSD tied for 52nd in the state out of 267 districts that were ranked. Districts with 100 or more socio-economically disadvantaged Hispanic students were included in the survey. That represented 267 of 1,000 districts in the state or 72 percent of the state's students.

The report card used data from the most recent California Assessment of Student Performance assessment tests from the 2017-2018 and 2018-2019 school years. Assessment tests haven't been done since then due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The report card evaluated how many socio-economically disadvantaged Hispanic third grade students met or exceeded reading grade levels based the California Assessment of Student Performance English Language Arts test.

The data still shows a great deal of progress still needs to be made as in most of the districts less than half of the socio-economically disadvantaged Hispanic students read at grade level. That included PUSD where 41 percent of the socio-economically disadvantaged Hispanic students met or exceeded grade level when it came to their reading skills.

But PUSD Director of Curriculum and Instruction Technology Andrew Woodley said the district has made a great deal of progress in the last 10 years. Woodley said 10 years ago educators in the district had a moment when they realized how they were teaching students reading skills effectively wasn't working.

“We changed our model,” said Woodley, adding the district realized “there was no magic bullet program” for teaching reading.

The district now stresses the training of teachers to teach reading skills and also provides reading teachers for struggling students and middle school students in an effort to make sure they continue to progress heading into high school.

The district also identifies students who need intervention or “urgent intervention.” The district also works to diagnose weaknesses students have when it comes to reading. “There's so many places reading can break down,” Woodley said.

Woodley said he knows the district will need to improve on its 41 percent figure. “We will get there,” he said. “We can do better than 41 percent. We're going to do better.”

“Next time this comes out we're going to do better than we did this time,” said Woodley about PUSD having a higher percentage in the next CRC rankings.

The top performing district in the state was Bonita in Los Angeles in which 64 percent of its socio-economically disadvantaged Hispanic students met or exceeded grade level when it came to reading. Only 39 percent of Bonita's students were considered high needs students.

But the report noted the top ranked schools weren't just those with a low number of high needs students. The top 30 districts had numbers of high-needs students ranging from 39 to 96 percent.

The top 30 districts also came from urban, rural and and suburban areas from 10 different counties. “The clear message is that it is not the students themselves, or the level of resources that drive student reading achievement — the primary drivers are district focus on reading, managemnt practices and curriculum and instruction choices,” the report stated.

The report also stated, “We believe better results for these students almost certainly means better reading instruction for all.”

PUSD was also the top ranked district in Tulare, Kings and Kern Counties. Three Fresno County school districts ranked in the top 10.

Visalia Unified School District ranked 146th with 33 percent of students meeting or exceeding grade level in which 69 percent of students were high needs students.

Both Burton School District and Lindsay Unified School District tied for 158th as each had 32 percent meeting or exceeding grade level. Ninety-one percent of students in Lindsay were high needs students while 79 percent were high needs students at Burton.

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