PROVO — Support for a fledgling school-reform program may have earned a small boost by the recent results of the Stanford Achievement Test.

For the second year after Provo schools established benchmarks for students to reach at each grade level, scores have gone up on the annual Stanford Achievement Test.

Patti Harrington, assistant superintendent who oversees the district's lessons, attributes the rise in scores to the standards initiative, called "Standards and Benchmarks," that raises the academic bar for students in all grades.

"I like to say that it's given us a laser-like focus on literacy and numeracy," Harrington said.

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Under the "Standards and Benchmarks" learning plan, students from kindergarten to the 12th grade are required to test at specific levels in reading, writing and mathematics.

Learning standards have been written for each grade, and yardsticks to measure what students have learned have been sharpened in the past two years. The program is aimed at stopping "social promotion," which is the practice of advancing students to higher grade levels regardless of how well they perform academically.

Provo wanted to start the program in earnest at all schools by 2000. But voters turned down a proposed $2.2 million leeway that would have paid for extra teachers, tutors and additional buses.

Still, Provo is starting to put the program into effect at schools that have received state or federal grants.

Dixon Middle School and Maeser and Canyon Crest elementary schools are the first to start the standards effort.

At both Dixon and Maeser, the total composite on the SAT rose 4 percentile points. Since 1997, Maeser teachers have led students to a 25-point percentile increase on the total battery.

Consider these scores from Maeser: Scores on the math section went from the 39th to the 62nd percentile, natural science increased 42 percentile points to reach the 61st percentile, and language popped up from the 18th to the 44th percentile.

And Maeser, along with Sunset View and Timpview elementary schools, exceeded the range in which they were expected to score. That range is established by the Utah State Office of Education and reflects the number of students who qualify for free lunches.

Maeser, with 54 percent of students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunches under poverty guidelines, also this year started to operate under an Urban Learning Center blueprint, said Principal Dale Porter.

Such centers provide additional help to students while also trying to bolster the community in which the school is located. Five schools statewide were given grants to start the learning centers.

Porter says the concept was founded on the idea that high poverty rates could be "roadblocks to learning."

Standards and Benchmarks also includes summer courses, additional tutoring to students who need the extra help and bus rides for students who want to stay after school for help.

Parent involvement also has been key in the success of schools — particularly at Wasatch Elementary, which increased its total composite 21 percentile points to reach the 70th percentile.

"The children have learned to love the learning process," said parent Dana Israelson, who volunteers her time teaching art at the school. "They've been very welcoming to parents."

Israelson said, "There is no shortage" of parent volunteers at the Provo school. "Parents right now are being trained to teach literacy," she said.

Other bright spots on the test include Edgemont Elementary, which hit the 71st, 73rd and 77nd percentile, respectively, in the math, reading and science categories.

Math scores were also high at Centennial Middle School, where students placed in the 76th percentile, and at Timpview High School, which earned a spot in the 80th percentile.

"This is very encouraging and reflects growth in all the Provo scores even as the state is experiencing slight declines," Harrington said.

"Increasing test scores, of a wide variety, are what we want to see as a continuing pattern, providing evidence of student learning and ability."