MOULTRIE -- Two Colquitt County elementary schools have received the highest distinction in progress for Title I schools for 2001.

Out of 1,063 Georgia Title I schools, Funston Elementary School and Odom Elementary School were two of 82 schools that met or exceeded state standards for three or more consecutive years.

Funston Elementary was one of five schools selected by the state for national recognition for marked yearly improvement in test scores. The federal Title I program looked at the amount of fourth-graders failing Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests (CRCT) over the last two years. Before 2000, Title I tracked the amount of students failing the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS) to determine progress, school officials said.

The percentage of Funston Elementary students failing the CRCT in 2001 was 22 percent, more than half the percentage of 45 in 2000. In mathematics, improvements were just as impressive -- from 57 percent failing in 2000 to only 37 percent failing in 2001.

Odom Elementary demonstrated significant strides as well. In 2000, the percentage of students failing the CRCT in reading was 47 percent. That amount decreased to 38 percent for 2001. In math, only 37 percent of students failed the CRCT in 2001 when the year before 50 percent did.

What makes these two schools stand apart is their cultural diversity. Odom is comprised of 26 percent Hispanic students, the largest proportion in the county. Funston is made up of 23 percent Hispanic.

Odom Principal Doug Howell attributes his students' improvements partly to the move to Saxon phonics and math -- a very structured, incremental method of teaching the basics -- a couple of years back. Funston and other schools are implementing Saxon methods this year.

Also this year, Colquitt elementary schools are involved with America's Choice, a program designed to improve writing skills.

Both principals recognize parental involvement as key to student improvement. Howell and Funston Principal Lynn Clark both said that Hispanic families are highly supportive of their child's education and that students have very few discipline problems. But for many, the language barrier is still there.

"That's a stumbling block. Even though a child may be able to converse with you in English, when it comes to reading and writing and answering these standardized tests, they just have problems," Howell said.

The three elements of success to Howell are high expectations, time on task and focus on teaching. In fact, Monday night the Colquitt County school board agreed to allow Howell to reallocate part of his Title I funding to pay for a veteran teacher to teach other teachers better methods of instruction.

For Clark, early intervention programs, teaching children on their reading levels and teacher focus on aligning quality core curriculum instruction to objectives are crucial to success.

"There's an awareness throughout our county with teachers that we need to know what we're accountable for and we need to teach on what we're being held accountable for," Clark said.

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