San Bernardino County Sun Sunday, April 25, 1999



Manuel Corona, 12, reads a practice test that assesses students' reading
comprehension at W.H. Frisbie Middle School in Rialto. Improving students'
reading skills is one of many areas Rialto schools are looking to improve.

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As public education comes under closer scrutiny in California, the first step to creating better schools is knowing where they need to improve.

That's the premise behind the education audit of the Rialto Unified School District, a comprehensive review of the district's effectiveness. The San Bernardino County Sun initiated the audit, paying the SchoolMatch consulting firm of Ohio to collect hundreds of pages of district performance data.

Private and public sponsors contributed to the cause, and the funds were dispersed by Lend-A-Hand, a nonprofit program at The Sun to help the community.

Low reading skills, grade inflation, poor performance among students with limited English skills, apathy among parents. All those factors can come back to haunt students - and society - if teachers, administrators and the community fail to address them.

"I think it's important to step back and take an objective look at our instructional program and how we are helping children," Rialto school Superintendent Irene Newton said in a statement about the auditing process.

The auditing team established what it called effectiveness levels and used them to show how students in each school perform compared to how they ought to perform.

Newton said district officials realize their students' scores on standardized tests are unacceptable and are taking steps to better them.

But perhaps the most important step noted in the audit is one the district has only partial control over: a community-wide emphasis on the importance of education.

"Many parents don't understand and value the importance of education above all things," said Fitzgerald Elementary Principal Robin Valles. "Communities have to compromise ... to make our schools better."





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