By Oyaol Ngirairikl

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, Nov. 14) - Government spending for the education of every child in Guam public schools has shrunk almost 10 percent from the cost five fiscal years ago, a Department of Education progress report shows.

The reduction - to $4,370 from $4,837 per student - didn't help improve the overall quality of education for the island's public school children.

The progress report detailed test results that DOE Superintendent Juan Flores characterized as alarming.

"The progress report provides us with legitimate reasons to be concerned about the academic achievement of our students, as demonstrated on the Stanford Achievement Tests,'' Flores said.

And while numbers in the progress report tell a story of many children left behind learning-wise, the same report shows that Guam public schools have been making almost everyone graduate from high school.

Guam public high schools posted graduation rates of between 94 percent and 100 percent over the last three school years, the report states.

Edna Topasna, 34, whose daughter attends P.C. Lujan Elementary School, wasn't surprised with the report's contents.

As the president of the school's parent-teacher association, she's helped lead parents' efforts to try to make up for what the government could no longer provide to school children.

The organization has purchased air-conditioning units for classrooms and cleaned and painted school facilities. Parents at her child's school also have bought school supplies, toilet fixtures and hinges for classroom cabinets.

Sometimes, she said, she feels like saying "enough."

"We would like to raise funds to buy things that go back to making learning fun for our children. Not to purchase hinges, door locks and air-conditioning units. That's DOE's job,'' Topasna said.

"Sometimes I feel like a human ATM," she added.

The DOE superintendent showed some test-result snapshots at a public presentation of the progress report yesterday that he said give parents and educators "legitimate reasons to be concerned about the academic achievement of our students."

Some of the school year 2002-2003 Stanford Achievement test results Flores highlighted:

In fifth-grade math, 89 percent of students performed at the lowest levels, indicating they did not reach the minimum competence to move on to the next grade.

For 11th-graders, 97 percent of students scored at the lowest performance levels in language.

And for most of the grades tested, and in almost all subject areas, performance levels showed no improvement from the previous year.

Topasna said she and other parents in her PTA are getting frustrated.

"Our parents are tired. Our parents are sickened and our parents are disgusted. I don't see DOE handling the needs of the school, of the teachers, and of the students," she said.

In the past four years, Guam's public school students' performance on the Standford Achievement Test, ninth edition, or SAT-9, tests have collectively declined. Generally, the islands' students score low compared to their mainland counterparts.

Flores, reading from the report's executive summary, touched on some of the department's plans to improve test scores and increase graduation rates. But one parent said he wanted more specific answers.

Ignacio Santos, 44, whose son attends Jose L.G. Rios Middle School, said he was a little disappointed about what he heard at the presentation yesterday

About 100 people, including DOE employees and the island's political leaders, attended the presentation at Tamuning Elementary School's cafeteria.

"(Flores) talked about the SAT-9 scores and about collaborative efforts, but I don't feel like there was any real solutions," Santos said. "I was looking for specific ways that we can improve students' scores and what's going to be done to clean the schools."

Santos said one way the department could improve student learning is by looking at the whole picture.

"It's everything," he said. "It's the qualified teachers, the budget that the school gets for each student, it's the SAT-9 scores; it's the nice school building, the clean bathrooms and the supplies in the classrooms," Santos said.

"Everything from the school gate to the classroom, that's the setting for education."

Parents at Santos' child's school are taking action.

After the presentation, Santos said he needed to run to a parent-teacher organization meeting at his school.

"We're meeting tonight to talk about our fund-raisers," he said.

"We're trying to raise money to purchase lockers for the school so that the students have a place to put their books."

November 14, 2003

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