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SPOTLIGHT ON SUCCESS: Every Student at High-Poverty, High-Minority Massachusetts School Accepted to College

Nationwide, two out of three high school freshmen read below grade level, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). This alarming statistic can be changed; educators know a great deal about how to educate low-performing adolescents to high standards, and many schools are successfully meeting the challenge. On September 14, the Alliance for Excellent Education profiled one such school, the University Park Campus School (UPCS) in Worcester, Massachusetts, as part of its series of forums looking at successful adolescent literacy programs and ways they are improving our nation’s high schools.

In 1997, when UPCS opened in Main South, the most economically disadvantaged section of Worcester, most of the students read below grade level, and many dropped out in the seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. About 65 percent of these students came from homes where no English was spoken, 70 percent qualified for free or reduced-price lunch, and 60 percent were students of color. Because of these challenges, Worcester Public Schools partnered with Clark University to create UPCS, a school for the neighborhood’s seventh to twelfth graders that would not only help them pass high school proficiency exams and prevent them from dropping out, but also would ensure that each student would be accepted into college. When UPCS graduated its first class six years later, every single student had received a college acceptance letter.

Driven by strong school leadership, UPCS has developed its own unique approach to teaching literacy. Rather than being a ready-made package, the UPCS literacy program has evolved out of numerous staff meetings, reflection on success and failure, and a good dose of trial and error.

An important part of UPCS’s success is its August Academy, an intensive monthlong session that focuses on literacy development. During this time, UPCS teachers conduct informal classes where students engage in discussion and analysis of literature. During the school year, students in seventh and eighth grade have block schedules that allow them to spend the maximum amount of time in humanities, math, and science classes. In every class, teachers help students learn not only their subject matter but also the literacy skills required to understand and remember that subject. Even in high school, students’ schedules are composed of sixty- and ninety-minute blocks, which allow teachers to monitor and reinforce literacy skills through assignments such as papers, journals, or oral presentations.

One morning a week, the entire faculty, including the principal, meets to analyze student test scores and other work, while students take classes from itinerant district-level staff who teach subjects such as physical education and computers. Teachers present informal progress reports on individual students so teachers in all subject areas can assess that student’s progress in every class. During weekly meetings, teachers and administrators also discuss general concerns, such as how to better integrate writing into daily lesson plans. Lastly, the principal also supervises an informal mentoring program between newer and veteran teachers.

The only requirement for admission to UPCS is to be a resident of the Main South neighborhood; once students apply, they are chosen by a lottery. UPCS’s partnership with Clark University also gives students access to university resources. Students can enroll in Clark classes while they are still in high school, and many Clark students and graduates tutor or teach at UPCS. And since paying for college is the biggest obstacle for many students, Clark University pledges to give any UPCS student who meets its admission requirements a full scholarship for all four years of college.

As of 2004, every student at UPCS has passed the English/language arts section on the MCAS, the state’s tenth-grade graduation exams. For the class of 2003, math MCAS scores ranked thirteenth out of more than three hundred schools in the state, and its English/language arts score ranked thirty-fourth. In eight years of operation, only one student has dropped out of UPCS. And 100 percent of all UPCS graduates have been accepted into colleges, with 80 percent going on to four-year institutions, including Georgetown, Dartmouth, and Brown, as well as Clark.

Audio recordings from the event, and more information on UPCS, are available at

Save the Dates! Upcoming Alliance Events


Full-Day Symposium on Adolescent Literacy

On November 7, the Alliance will hold a full-day symposium on adolescent literacy. This event will focus on the professional development policies needed for high school teachers in all subject areas to provide quality literacy instruction. Join us for a lively and informative discussion about reading, writing, and the next steps in the national movement to improve high school education.

Breakfast Forum: Six Key Strategies for Teachers of English-Language Learners

On December 7, the Alliance will hold its fourth and final high school achievement breakfast forum of the year. At the forum, participants will be introduced to “Six Key Strategies for Teachers of English Language Learners,” a professional development tool designed for secondary ELL teachers by the New Teacher Center. Created for beginning teachers and their mentors, this tool provides strategies to improve second-language development and to enhance subject-specific reading comprehension and writing skills. Preliminary findings show that the Six Key Strategies have an impact on student engagement, literacy skills, and teacher practice.

Rain Bongolan, the development coordinator for English learner instruction at the New Teacher Center, will present, and Deborah Short from the Center for Applied Linguistics will provide a response.

More information on both events is available at


Oregon High School to Require AP English for Every High School Junior


The process of “fitting in” to high school was made a little easier for juniors at North Eugene High School in Eugene, Oregon, this year. Earlier this summer, when class schedules were mailed out, all students had at least one class in common-namely, Advanced Placement (AP) language and composition. The decision to have all students, from straight-A honors students to English-language learners (ELL), take an AP English class is part of a movement in the school to raise expectations and boost success for all students.

“There was a lot of worry on the part of our ELL and special education staff,” Principal Peter Tromba told the Eugene Register-Guard. “Some of them were mad.” Tromba admitted to having doubts when the school’s English Department first suggested the plan, but he warmed to the idea when confronted with recent research. “Having kids be exposed to that curriculum and being challenged and being in a college-level class is a good thing. The data show kids do better.”

Amy Samson, North Eugene’s remedial reading teacher, supported the decision, but wonders whether it will improve achievement. She noted that more than 80 percent of North Eugene’s freshman class struggled to read at grade level last year, with 60 percent reading at or below a sixth-grade level.

When parents and students learned about the decision last spring, both Tromba and Diane Downey, the head of the North Eugene English Department, heard complaints, but not as many as might have been expected. Tromba said he heard from about ten parents, all of whom were concerned that their high-performing students’ progress might be slowed by the presence of lower-performing students.

“I kind of, as nicely as I can, let them know that this is a public school and we are obliged to provide the best education for all students, not the best education for the brightest and the ones with the pushiest parents,” Downey said.

The complete Register-Guard article is available at


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