SALT LAKE CITY — Twenty-six percent of Utah's Title 1 schools are performing highly, despite the challenges of serving low-income families.

"We are really pleased," said Ann White, Title 1 coordinator at the Utah State Office of Education. "Some of these schools are performing higher than schools that don't face the demands they do."

Of the 242 Title 1 schools in Utah, 60 were recognized as "high performing" at a recent State Office of Education meeting. Seven were lauded for exceptional gains in Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP). Four schools earned honors in both categories: Milford Elementary in Beaver School District, Neola Elementary in Duchesne School District, Antimony Elementary in Garfield School District and Spring City Elementary in North Sanpete School District.

In comparison, only 5 percent of Title 1 schools are labeled as needing improvement according to federal AYP standards. Nine of those 12 schools passed AYP last year, which means they need just one more year of good scores to get off probation, White said.

"That's just phenomenal," she said.

The Utah State Office of Education chose two schools, Lewiston Elementary in Cache School District and Monroe Elementary in Granite School District, as National Distinguished Title 1 Schools. Their achievements will be recognized early next year in Washington, D.C.

To qualify as high performing, schools had to pass AYP for two consecutive years. On the most recent criterion-referenced tests, students had to score at or above the Utah state average in language arts and math.

Schools that earned recognition for AYP improvement closed the achievement gap between ethnic subgroups by at least 50 percent.

This was no small feat, White said, for schools made up largely of refugees and English language learners. Many students living in poverty may also switch schools multiple times per year.

"The schools that are succeeding at this level really have a laser-targeted focus on student achievement," White said. "They're getting the community involved. They're getting parents involved. They know what it means to engage students in learning."

Schools have to "get creative" to make things work, White said.

Some schools have outfitted buses with tutors so students could practice their language and math skills on the ride to and from school, she said. One school divided the student body in half and adjusted class schedules so every student could benefit from smaller class sizes for at least 30 minutes a day.

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Lewiston Elementary has two aides in every classroom. They track children's reading progress regularly using fluency measures, a phonics screener and vocabulary and comprehension probes.

"I think Utah schools get big bang for their buck," White said. "These educators are working hard."

Title 1 is a federally funded program under the No Child Left Behind Act. High poverty schools in Utah, selected by the percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, get approximately $60 million in federal funds annually to support supplemental educational services.