English-Learning Students in California Still Behind

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In the first effort of its kind in the country, a new California state law is requiring the state to create a definition for a “long-term English learner.”

According to data released just last week, the state has found almost 350,000 students across grades six through 12 who are still not proficient in the English language despite having been in school in the state for at least seven years.  These students account for about 75% of all secondary students who are still learning English.

Of that number, 90,000 are considered long-term English learners because they have not made progress on the state’s English proficiency exam in two consecutive years and continually score below their grade level on standardized tests written in English.

“These kids need to be visible,” said Shelly Spiegel-Coleman of Californians Together, a Long Beach-based nonprofit that promoted the legislation and released the state data. “In many instances, these students are sitting in mainstream classes and are not getting any specialized help.”

A study performed in 2010 discovered that many of these students were falling behind due to their school’s inability to track their progress, offer the correct curriculum, or train teachers.  The American Civil Liberties Union sued the state last year, arguing that legally required services were not being provided for students who were learning English, writes Pat Wingert for The Huffington Post.

Educators across the state say that their English learner students would more easily learn English once they have achieved fluency in their native language.  However, Proposition 227, the state initiative approved by voters in 1998 that places massive restrictions on bilingual education, has stopped this from happening.

Since the approval of Proposition 227 there has been a counter-movement growing within the state, asking for the teaching of two languages within a dual-immersion class.  A measure that would successfully repeal the proposition was placed on the November 2016 ballot by State Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens).

In LA Unified, the state’s largest district, around one-third of the over 600,000 students are English learners.  Over 35,000 of those students have not reached grade level within five years.  A 2011 settlement with the US Education Department’s civil rights division has caused the district to see a major overhaul of its services available for English learning students, according to Teresa Watanabe for The Los Angeles Times.

Two new classes are being offered in the district that hope to increase language skills for English learners while at the same time better train their teachers.  The district is also requiring all teachers to establish relationships with the parents of all their students in order to keep them better informed of their child’s progress.

Teachers across the state are using the Common Core standards to find innovative ways to teach math to English learners.  The key finding that many educators agree on is that these students benefit from the standards, which have them interact with other students in small groups, analyzing and critiquing each others work, reports Laurie Udesky for EdSource.

“With the Common Core,” said teacher David Ramirez, “teachers are pushed to a new level in order to have students clearly understand what they are doing and why their answer makes sense.”