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Non-native speakers score higher on exit exam

Santa Clarita Valley school districts’ proficiency programs show success

Posted: September 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: September 2, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Non-native English speakers who have been through English-proficiency programs at local public schools scored higher than their native-English-speaking peers on the California High School Exit Exam, recently released numbers show.

Santa Clarita Valley students who have been designated “proficient” after succeeding in the program scored a 95 percent pass rate on the exit exam among those 10th graders who passed on the first try, compared to a 92 percent score for those who did not take the programs aimed at teaching English to students with other native languages, according to numbers released by the state Department of Education.

Although the exit exam is designed to measure how well instruction is matching the state’s standards at completion of high school, schools give it to 10th graders so problems can be remedied before students have to pass the test to receive a diploma.

The success rate of students who have passed through the English proficiency programs is a reflection of efforts at multiple grade levels, Santa Clarita Valley educators say.

English instruction is approached at a variety of different ways, said Lisa Bloom, director of instruction and special projects for the Castaic Union School District.

Some of these ways are set by the state, others determined by districts, and some outreach is handled on site, Bloom said.

In the case of the William S. Hart Union High School District, “We have (English-language development) courses, we have (English-language) support intervention, we work really hard to help our (English-language) students learn English and stay current with the content standards,” said Dave LeBarron, director of curriculum.

Keeping up

“We’re commissioned to do two things,” LeBarron said, discussing the curriculum for the Hart district’s approximately 2,100 English-language learners. “One is to learn to help students to become proficient in English, and the other is to keep them proficient in their grade-level content standard.”

The state determines standardized levels for English comprehension, which categorizes students into five levels of English-language development. The levels are determined by the California English Language Development Test, which students not proficient in English take annually.

Different districts have different means for following the progress of students once their level of proficiency is determined.

Some districts put certain time requirements on the portion of classroom time devoted to English acquisition when it’s needed. Approximately 30 minutes of daily language instruction is usually the minimum, educators said.

How the lessons are taught depends on the language levels of students in class, Bloom said. Hart district students may take the courses as electives.

Schools try to keep students together with their regular classes as often as possible, so they don’t miss out on the rest of their curriculum, LeBarron said

How it’s taught

“They start out by learning conversational English for the playground — what they eat, what they wear, what they need to play and interact,” said Christine Hamlin, assistant superintendent of instruction for Saugus Union School District, which had 1,280 English-language learners last year.

A more academic curriculum is gradually eased in once the teacher thinks a student is ready, she said.

The Newhall School District had 2,069 English-language-learning students last year, almost 30 percent of its roughly 7,000 enrollment.

“Probably our best results we’ve had from the staff is development in-house through our Guided Language Acquisition Design program,” said Nancy Copley, assistant superintendent of instructional services for the Newhall district.

The teachers will look at which methods are particularly effective during a weeklong training session scheduled when students are not in class.

Monthly workshops give teachers a chance to re-evaluate their strategies based on what the educators have learned, she said.

In addition to the state-mandated test  standard, Castaic district officials created a benchmark test, which they give to students three times a year, said Bloom.

The Castaic district had 320 English-language learners last year, roughly 10 percent of its student population.

Other support

Serving the English-language-learning community also can involve after-school programs, said Cynthia Seamands, principal of Live Oak Elementary School in Castaic.

Her school takes in students from Val Verde, an area with a high population of English-language learners, she said.

Last year, she began an after-school homework club at Val Verde Park led by two teachers who are trained in bilingual education, she said.

Another significant difference has been the school’s work with the nonprofit Latino Family Literacy Project.

The goal is to reach out to parents in these communities where the language barrier may be especially significant. By supplying bilingual books and support, the program doesn’t just improve English literacy, it encourages parents to take a more active role in a child’s education, Seamands said.

“They have to feel it, and understandably, school hasn’t always been a super-comfortable place (for English-language learners) — it can be a bit intimidating,” Seamands said.

“We have to understand (parents’) timidity, and we have to reach out as much as possible, and (teach) that they’re a vital part and that they can play an important role, whether or not they are (English) literate.”



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