Four-hour block doubles ELL proficiency, says Horne
Impressive increases in learning were achieved by school districts that implemented the new English language learners model a year early, yet despite Yuma waiting until this year a previous pilot program helped pave the path, according to a school official.
Three years ago a similar three-hour block of intensified English instruction was used by former Fourth Avenue Junior High School language arts teacher Peg Sheehan. She is now the No Child Left Behind mentor for Yuma Elementary District 1.
The 2006 state requirement provided a four-hour block of instruction for Arizona's 130,000 who are classified as English language learners (ELL) and was adopted by the county for 2008-09.
"ELL was not a mandate at that time but we recognized there was a strong language development issue," Sheehan said.
Starting four years ago, state teachers were required to have an endorsement in Structural English Immersion requiring them to teach all instruction in English.
But it gave teachers strategies to get across academic content with such tools as color coding where a certain color always represented a noun or verb or graphic organizers such as Venn diagrams that compare and contrast two similar things that accelerated learning, she explained.
Sheehan had 35-40 students and all except one had met the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) in writing, she noted. And nearly three-quarters of them met AIMS standards in reading, she added.
"They grew an enormous amount, but the class size was smaller and we'd like to see class size reduced," she said.
Most ELL classes in Arizona have 28 students. At 26 for District 1, Sheehan said, even that is a little large. She added she often came in an hour early or bought or produced course materials herself to supplement her classes, but many other teachers also volunteered to work extra time to make sure students had what they needed to succeed.
Sheehan noted how numerous seventh- and eighth-grade students with good aptitude were receiving Ds and Fs because they did not thoroughly understand basic English concepts. Part of the problem was the difficulty explaining the ideas of simile and metaphor to students not well grounded in English, she noted.
"I think it's worth it to invest a year for intensive English instruction so they can access content standards," Sheehan said. "Teachers would love to have more resources. I think we could use more staff and aides. But teachers will do whatever it takes."
Arizona Department of Education Superintendent Tom Horne extolled the new ELL model that doubled its "reclassification rates" in districts where the program was adopted last year.
On Aug. 28, Horne noted, the rates, or those who were reclassified as English proficient, doubled in districts that opted early for the new model.
These districts included the Humboldt Unified School District, which increased its proficiency rates from 12 to 28 percent; the Florence Unified School District from 15 to 38 percent; and Glendale Elementary from 3.9 to 17.52 percent.
"Learning academics while learning English was put into the model at my recommendation," Horne said.
Keeping students in an intensified English class fours a day has some critics saying this promotes segregation. Yet a recent court ruling decided that since it is done for a limited time, it was not really segregation.
Also, there are still two hours in the school day when students participate in electives when they can mix with the entire school, he said.
The new ELL model can have students in kindergarten proficient in English by the end of the first semester while some of the older students require a full year, Horne noted.
"When I first took office (2002) we still had some bilingual classes that took seven years, " he said.
The state budget has allocated $40 million for the ELL program. Although some districts complained it was inadequate, Horne said, he examined each one grade by grade and school by school and concluded this was sufficient.
The money is enough to fund the additional 1,400 ELL teachers needed yet it is up to the districts to now hire them to fulfill additional staff needs, he said.
"Part of my job is to determine the best education possible but part of it is to make sure taxpayer money is not wasted," he emphasized.
William Roller can be reached at
email@example.com or 539-6858.