NEWS RELEASE, 02/12/98

U.S. Secretary of Education joins UC Berkeley Chancellor in lauding striking gains by students enrolled in Berkeley Pledge

by Jesús Mena

RICHMOND -- Students targeted in an ambitious University of California, Berkeley effort to help disadvantaged youngsters become eligible for a UC education have made striking gains in mathematical achievement, Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl announced at a press conference today (Friday, Feb. 13).

Touring Adams Middle School in Richmond with U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley, Berdahl said that K-12 students in more than 40 San Francisco Bay Area schools participating in the UC Berkeley outreach program called the Berkeley Pledge have dramatically improved their scores on standardized tests and other markers of academic progress.

"The results of the first year of the Berkeley Pledge pilot programs are greatly encouraging," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Berdahl. "We have shown, with our school partners, that if poor and minority children are given the opportunity and educational support they need to excel, there is no reason they can not compete for admission to UC Berkeley by the time they graduate from high school."

Riley, who was in Richmond Friday to promote "High Hopes," a new federal effort to guide more disadvantaged students to college, singled out the Berkeley Pledge as a model program to preserve diversity on college campuses through stronger partnerships with K-12 schools.

"Children are not only achieving, in many cases, they are excelling," said the Vice Chancellor and Provost Carol T. Christ, who has provided the academic leadership for the program. "Our outreach partnerships with schools have been successful despite the structural barriers that exist in our urban schools."

The Pledge -- launched in 1995 with $2.5 million from campus funds and private and corporate contributions -- matches university outreach services with a school's specific needs. Elementary, middle

and high schools in Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond and San Francisco all are part of the program, thus creating in each district an academically enriched "pipeline" for students to travel through as they prepare for college.

These schools with populations of predominantly low-income and minority students have received additional help with curriculum development, teacher training, mentorships, internet resources, summer school, in-class support and tutoring. Hundreds of UC Berkeley undergraduates are volunteering to work in the schools through the Berkeley Pledge.

The extra assistance has paid off in higher grades and test scores and has put a greater number of minority students on track for college.

For instance, at Washington Elementary School in Richmond, first, fourth, fifth, and sixth graders who participated in an intensive after-school math tutorial called Break the Cycle gained an average 25 percentile points on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, which is a standardized achievement test.

"Probably the most remarkable thing about the program is that it really works," said Michele Hamilton, a UC Berkeley undergraduate who tutored first graders at Washington's Break the Cycle program. "At the start of the semester, my students had such a low sense of self. By the end of the semester, the change I saw was remarkable."

Hamilton said her young students not only dramatically boosted their ITBS scores, but also learned to hold their heads up high.

"I had a rule that they couldn't call themselves stupid. After a while, I would hear them out on the playground shouting 'I am a genius.' How is that for a measure of progress," said Hamilton. "The whole experience was so moving, partly because I came from a similar socio-economic background."

Similar advances were found at middle schools targeted by the Pledge. At Adams Middle School, the site of today's press conference, seventh graders who took part in a math enrichment program, called ACCESS, earned more As and Bs and fewer Cs than their fellow students who did not participate in the pre-algebra preparation course.

ACCESS and similar Pledge math projects aim to increase both the number and the performance of students in college math tracks.

"I think the Berkeley Pledge is great," said Richard Avalos, principal of Adams Middle School. "It counters the inner city pool of negativism. It tells these kids that the University of California is definitely for them. It tells them it can be done. It says to them, 'Si se puede.'"

Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley saw significant gains in the number of students entering college-track math classes. There, 10 of 15 students who did not pass the qualifying exams for high school geometry went on to enroll in honors geometry in the fall after completing an intensive summer MESA (Math Engineering and Science Achievement) Algebra I class on the Berkeley campus.

High school students also benefited from Berkeley Pledge math programs. El Cerrito High School students who enrolled in the Professional Development Program (PDP) Algebra II/Trigonometry seminars earned nearly one grade point higher than their peers who didn't participate in the semester-long seminars.

The Pledge also recently launched programs to improve students' reading and writing skills. Through the Pledge's Interactive University -- an initiative that uses the internet to share university resources -- 71 students at McClymonds High School in West Oakland are paired with UC Berkeley undergraduates in an on-line writing exchange.

Anita Madrid, Berkeley Pledge coordinator, said that progress reports from newly launched literacy and internet initiatives will be available in June. "We have seen dramatic improvements in math," said Madrid. "We are finding the keys to improve performance in writing and science."

UC Berkeley and participating Pledge schools monitor progress of students in the programs each semester and at the end of the year.

In addition to the $2.5 million already invested in the program, the campus has raised more than $300,000 through the United Way and campus donations. "We will need to raise much more than this to sustain this ambitious effort into the future," Madrid said.

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