District Shares English Learner Success with State Board

Mauricia Saucedo was a parent volunteer when she first began working with English Learner students in the Chula Vista Elementary School District. A landmark Supreme Court decision in 1974 guaranteed children an opportunity to a “meaningful education” regardless of their language background. The Supreme Court decision stemmed from a lawsuit in San Francisco, but its impact was felt in CVESD and at districts across the country, where students who did not know English were often left to “sink or swim” in the classroom. The aftermath of Lau v. Nichols paved the way for Saucedo and many like her to eventually be hired as classroom instructional aides to work with limited-English proficient students.

Today, Saucedo is a Communications Supervisor, serving as the District’s translator and interpreter in oral and written Spanish. She has seen first-hand the District’s transformation in both attitude and achievement toward English Learners.

“Night and day,” Saucedo said. Saucedo recalls when a sixth-grade student who did not know English, and whose teachers and administrators did not know what to do with, was placed in a Special Education classroom for much of the school day. There was nothing “wrong” with the student—other than he did not know English. “It broke my heart,” Saucedo said.

EL picture-LTELNow, more than 40 years after Lau vs. Nichols, CVESD is a shining example of what’s right about English language acquisition. The District is promoting research—and solutions—to address a complex problem in California schools today: Long Term English Learners (LTELs). This week, CVESD leaders shared with the state Board of Education about the District’s process for developing a Local Control Accountability Plan that incorporates all students, including English Learner and Low-Income students. The District was invited to participate in state Board meeting because of its reputation as a leader in closing the achievement gap among English Learners.

“Our District has worked hard to develop and implement literacy-based interventions for English Learners, foster growth in Dual Language Immersion programs, and increase parental engagement and parent leadership development while we implement the new Common Core State Standards,” said Superintendent Francisco Escobedo, Ed.D.

CVESD has consistently reduced the number of Long Term English Learners in its system. The District experienced a 27% decrease in the past four years, and a 30% decrease when compared to 5 years ago. CVESD defines a Long Term English Learner as a student in grades 4-12 who has not made annual progress in developing English language for two or more consecutive years, and who has been in U.S. schools for four or more years. This definition is more aggressive than the state’s definition, and enables CVESD to identify LTELs earlier and provide them necessary interventions and support.LTEL presentation Rev 11.11.14ENLISH

Why such concern? “If you become a Long Term English learner, it is a downward trajectory academically and the consequences are just devastating,” said Emma Sanchez, CVESD’s Executive Director of Language Acquisition and Development.

Laurie Olsen, Ph.D., in her 2010 publication Reparable Harm:  Fulfilling the Unkept Promise of Educational Opportunity for California’s Long Term English Learners, called the issue a “wake up call” for California educators. Three out of four English Learner students in grades 6 -12 have been in California schools for 7 years or more and are still without the English skills they need to succeed academically. This is far longer than it should take to attain English proficiency. Such students struggle academically year after year, with little or no progress towards proficiency.

“If we don’t ensure that we provide timely interventions, language support, best practices to ensure children are accessing not only the language, but literacy development in all content areas—that’s when they become a Long Term English Learner,” Sanchez said.  “We don’t want to send children on to the middle school as Long Term English Learners. That is why our definition in CVESD is more aggressive. We are actually looking at children in CVESD in third grade who are at-risk of becoming a long term EL. If they are not making progress, and not achieving academically in the content areas, we know who those kids are. We are monitoring this.”

CVESD has 45 schools that collectively serve a student population of 29,200 (including charter schools), of which 68% are Hispanic and 37% EL. Why has CVESD been so successful in addressing LTELs? “It starts with generating the data of who they are and where they are academically. English learner progress is monitored continuously and data is used to provide timely interventions,” Sanchez said. “Parent engagement cannot be underestimated. Our parent leaders are a critical component to our parent education efforts.”

When the superintendent goes on his campus visits, he asks principals who the school’s LTELs are and what is being done for them? In addition, professional development in reading, math, and writing has focused its attention on explicit instructional practices that accelerate language and literacy for English Learners, Sanchez said.

“Our professional development with teachers at both the District level and site level is all about understanding how to support your LTELs through scaffolding (a teaching approach that progressively builds student understanding). How do we help children access rigorous content, how do we support them to understand and make meaning of academic vocabulary?” Sanchez explained.LTEL plateau

The results compare favorably with other school districts, where students typically plateau as they get older (see chart). In the final year of the former California State Standards, CVESD’s English Learner API was 818, which was higher than the overall score for some school districts in California. In English/Language Arts, that gap in proficiency had narrowed to 12 percentage points, and in Mathematics, it was down to single digits—7 percentage points.

“We are very proud of our efforts so far, but we won’t be satisfied until we close that gap entirely,” Superintendent Escobedo said. “Our District initiatives this year included expanding use of technology and web-based applications for business and operations to ensure seamless data interaction. In the classroom, this means we will continue to use web-based programs—learning accelerators—to positively impact students’ learning experience. These learning accelerators help supplement classroom instruction, in turn boosting proficiency of our English learners.”

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