One student smiled at Dale Cox, turning from math homework to proudly report that his failing English grade had been brought up to a D average.
Another boy looked up from his book to explain he had brought up his grades enough to leave the Homework Education Learning Project class, but he had opted to stay to help maintain his C average.
Cox, the principal of Mesa’s Taylor Junior High School, hopes the efforts this year to reach students not interested in doing homework and being in school will help the campus continue a steady increase in its test scores.
Despite a continued increase in the numbers of students who qualify for free lunches and are considered at risk, the school is labeled "excelling" by the state for its scores on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards.
The effort has earned the school the spotlight because state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne will give his Wednesday state of education speech on the campus.
"We picked them because they have high poverty and high test scores," Horne said. "I will have high new initiatives, but there will be one consistent theme from last year, which is ‘promises made, promises kept.’ "
Lecturing in front of a class is not always enough, Cox said. It’s a skill for teachers to persuade students to learn.
Taylor has created the new class as a requirement this year for students who are failing at least two subjects. Students must complete homework they failed to turn in during other classes, and are tutored by a group of teachers.
The students Cox is targeting are the ones Horne would expect to be part of the 10 percent of the class of 2006 to fail, based on lack of attendance that leads to not learning the skills expected on the AIMS test.
Horne said he expects some students to benefit from the state now releasing test scores during the summer, before student schedules are completed.