LAUSD SCORES SURGE DISTRICT SEES JUMP IN ENGLISH CAPABILITY.
Los Angeles Unified School District students learning English as a second language made strong gains on California's English-fluency exam and outperformed their peers statewide for the first time in the four-year history of the test, according to results released Tuesday.
Some educators attributed the gains to the switch to English-only instruction in most classes six years ago, while others cited improved teaching methods.
``This is a day and a cause for celebration,'' board member Marlene Canter said.
Overall, 49 percent of the LAUSD's English-language learners scored at ``advanced'' or ``early advanced'' levels on the California English Language Development Test (CELDT), compared with 39 percent last year and 47 percent statewide.
LAUSD students have increased their scores threefold since the test debuted in 2001.
While the LAUSD makes consistent gains, the district typically lags behind the state on nearly every performance measure. This year's progress is monumental, Superintendent Roy Romer said.
``We have really good news today,'' he said. ``We exceed the average school in California.''
LAUSD high schoolers made the largest gains on the test, increasing the percentage scoring ``early advanced'' or ``advanced'' from 47 percent to 60 percent. That's still slightly below the state average of 63 percent for high schoolers.
The CELDT identifies students who are learning English, determines their level of fluency and tracks their progress annually. Students are separated into five skill levels: ``beginning,'' ``early intermediate,'' ``intermediate,'' ``early advanced'' and ``advanced.''
Teachers statewide were required six years ago - under voter-approved Proposition 227 - to switch from bilingual education to English-only instruction. It's been a tough adjustment for the LAUSD, which has more than 250,000 English-language learners, officials said.
But this year's gains show that teacher training programs and new curriculum programs, such as High Point, Waterford and Open Court, seem to be paying off, administrators said. Teachers also spend about 30 minutes a day on specific language instruction for students learning English.
``We've paid attention to these students,'' school board President Jose Huizar said. ``Our teachers now focus on what they need to do to help these students.''
Huizar said both English immersion and bilingual programs, which about 10 percent of students have waivers to attend, can be effective, and district analyses show equal performance outcomes over the past four years. An updated LAUSD study to be released Thursday is expected to show increased outcomes for structured English programs.
As teachers understand specific techniques that benefit English-language learners, such as nonverbal cues and group discussions, instruction should become even more effective, said Kathy Hayes, who coordinates the study.
``At the beginning, there was a lot of resistance (to English-only classes), but now ... they see that the children are learning English,'' she said.
High-performing English immersion classrooms have enthusiastic teachers who recognize the strength of students and give positive feedback. Students seem relaxed, positive and energetic, according to classroom observations in the district study.
Mulholland Middle School Principal John White, a former teacher of English as a second language, said he favors the English-immersion programs.
The bilingual program ``doesn't create the urgency to learn to communicate in a different language,'' he said. ``I'd rather them jump into English.''
One of the drawbacks to English-language instruction is that some immigrants lose their native language, which is Spanish for about 95 percent of LAUSD test-takers. To remedy that, Fulton Middle School Principal Robert Garcia is requiring all of his ninth-graders to take Spanish, as part of the campus's conversion to a college preparation academy.
``One thing that's real important is what sort of value is given to the child's home language. That's where we're falling short,'' he said. ``I believe it's important for them to transition as quickly as possible to English instruction, but not at the expense of their home language.''
Studies show it takes about five years for most students to be fluent in a second language. No matter the state's political whims, Garcia said quality teachers are the universal key to language acquisition.
``It's not an easy question and I know everyone's looking for a silver bullet, but there isn't one,'' he said.
For the gains to continue, teacher training should increase and more time should be dedicated to specific language instruction. Fluent students must then be asked to use their English skills to better their knowledge of math, history and science, Huizar said.
``If these students succeed, LAUSD succeeds,'' he said. ``We could do better and we have to do better for this district and this city.''
In Ventura County schools, 42 percent of the 25,118 students tested proficient in English, compared with 37 percent in 2003-04. Just 23 percent of Ventura County students were considered proficient when the test was first given in 2001-02.
Charles Weis, Ventura County's superintendent of schools, welcomed the scores but said he saw no evidence that instruction in English only was responsible for the improvement.
In fact, he said, Ventura County schools use a variety of approaches involving instruction in English and the students' primary languages.
``The improvement is likely the result of a focus on good English language development instruction, a structured approach,'' he said. ``I think that is making a difference.''
Daily News Staff Writer Eric Leach contributed to this story.
Jennifer Radcliffe, (818) 713-3722
Mulholland Middle School student Jesus Garcia works on a problem during an English as a second language class Tuesday. New tests show LAUSD English-fluency scores rising.
Andy Holzman/Staff Photographer
ENGLISH ON THE RISE
SOURCE: State Department of Education
Gregg Miller/Staff Artist
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Article Type:||Statistical Data Included|
|Date:||Feb 9, 2005|
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