U.S. Dept. of Education visits Bay Area to see Berkeley Pledge program, a national model, in action

By Janet Gilmore, Public Affairs

BERKELEY--At a time when the nation's leaders are searching for ways to improve the performance of students in low-income, inner city schools, a pilot project run by officials at the University of California, Berkeley, continues to rack up successes.

Data from the 1997-1998 school year released today (Feb. 25) shows that K-12 students involved in a select number of UC Berkeley outreach programs, collectively known as the Berkeley Pledge, obtained significant improvements in math and literacy.

Among the most dramatic results are figures that show that, over a four-year period, the number of African American students in advanced math courses at El Cerrito High has more than tripled.

"I am extremely gratified by the work of UC Berkeley students and educators involved in the Berkeley Pledge outreach programs," said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl. "Their work proves that, when given the right resources, at the right time, students from all backgrounds can excel."

Launched in 1995, the Berkeley Pledge entails innovative programs designed to improve the academic performance of hundreds of students at schools in Berkeley, Oakland, West Contra Costa and San Francisco.

UC Berkeley educators and students offer these K-12 schools help with curriculum development, teacher training, mentorships, summer school, in-class support and tutoring.

Today and Friday (Feb. 25 and 26), representatives from the U.S. Department of Education will visit various local schools to see the Berkeley Pledge and its partner schools in action. During his State of American Education speech a few weeks ago, U.S. Secretary of Education Richard W. Riley hailed the Berkeley Pledge as a national model.

There are dozens of Berkeley Pledge outreach programs in Bay Area schools. They range from math and literacy tutorial programs aimed at encouraging very young children with guidance, hugs and trophies to high school programs that prime students for rigorous college preparatory classes.

Figures from the 1997-1998 school year illustrate a host of successes:

· At Hoover Elementary School in Oakland, first graders in the Berkeley Pledge program called Project First outperformed a comparison group of second graders in 14 of 16 classroom reading exercises administered at the end of the school year.

· At Washington Elementary School in Richmond, the Berkeley Pledge's Break the Cycle program showed dramatic gains. The percentage of first graders scoring above the 50th percentile in standardized school district math tests increased from 30 percent to 72 percent in two years. More importantly, the percentage of second graders in the program scoring at or above the 70th percentile increased from 12 percent in fall 1996 to 47 percent in spring 1998.

· At Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkeley, students who participated in the Berkeley Pledge's Cal Reads program, which involves special tutorials during the school day, saw their reading skills improve by an average of nine months.

· By far, the most striking success, however, occurred in the Berkeley Pledge's Professional Development Program at El Cerrito High. From the 1994-1995 school year to the 1997-98 school year, the number of overall students taking advanced math classes, such as calculus, jumped from 125 to 208.

Gains for African American students, in particular, were impressive. While the proportion of African Americans at El Cerrito High remained at 43 percent, the number of these students in advanced math courses tripled, jumping from 12 students in the 1994-95 school year to 39 in 1997-98. The Berkeley Pledge Program began at El Cerrito High during the 1996-97 school year.

"Berkeley Pledge outreach program teachers are now examining ways to ensure equity in the college prep courses," said Anita Madrid, coordinator of the Berkeley Pledge. "They no longer accept the fact that there are few minority students in such classes. Instead, they expect to see a representative number of African Americans, Latinos and other minority students in these courses."

Enrollment in such college preparatory courses is a key component in helping students qualify for admission to the state's colleges and universities.

Between 1995-96 school year and 1997-98, the number of overall El Cerrito High graduates who were eligible for the UC and California State University systems increased from 120 in 1995-96 to 230 in 1997-98.

Among African American graduates, in particular, the number increased from 27 to 53. For Hispanics, it increased from nine to 15. For Filipino students, it increased from four to 10. The Berkeley Pledge, operating on a $2.1 million budget, is funded by the California Legislature, UC Berkeley, the United Way and through gifts from other private and corporate donors. Pledge officials hope to work with their partnership schools to identify additional funding to build on the program's successes.

Education department officials will see vivid examples of the program's successes this week when they visit such schools as Portola Middle School in El Cerrito.

Carmen Vega, an eighth grader at the school, is a powerful example. Before participating in Berkeley Pledge's Access program, Carmen wasn't performing well in math class. She had received a "D" on one of her math exams. But after she was tutored by Zeba Noorani, a Berkeley Pledge tutor and teaching assistant assigned to Portola, her grades improved.

"My parents were like, 'How did you go from a D+ to an A?'" Carmen recalled.

Asked why she subsequently decided to sign up for an algebra preparation class taught by Noorani, a broad smile quickly spread across Carmen's face.

"I always wanted to take this class," Carmen said, "because when she helped me in my regular math class, I got it better."

While most conventional math classes might involve working with calculators, pencils and paper, Noorani's program uses a more tangible, hands-on approach to learning. Earlier this week, students in Noorani's Berkeley Pledge classes were sliding around bright red, green and blue plastic blocks cut in geometric shapes.

With Noorani's gentle prodding, they went from counting the sides of such shapes to devising a mathematical formula that could be used to quickly calculate the perimeter of such shapes.

D'Andre Morris, an eighth grader in the class, said his exam scores in his regular math class have improved from an F to a C- thanks to the additional help he gets in Noorani's math course.

"I picked this class so I can learn more," said D'Andre. "She breaks it down for us."

This server has been established by the University of California at Berkeley Public Information Office. Copyright for all items on this server held by The Regents of the University of California. Thanks for your interest in UC Berkeley.
More Press Releases | More Campus News and Events | UC Berkeley Home Page


Send comments to: