Education Desk: Apr. 2, 2014
By Carolyn Schuk

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District Not Meeting Federal Requirements for English Learners

SCUSD failed to meet federal Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAO) measures for English Learners (ELs) - children who aren’t fluent in English when they enter school - for four consecutive years, Asst. Superintendent Tanya Fischer reported at last week’s Santa Clara Unified board meeting.

Way back in the presidential administration of Lyndon Johnson, congress passed the 1968 Bilingual Education Act. In 2001, it was replaced by the English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement Act, otherwise known as Title III of No Child Left Behind Act. Title III is specifically concerned with English Learners.

The law provides additional funding for these programs, and requires districts to demonstrate acceptable EL student progress in meeting Average Yearly Progress (AYP) goals, English proficiency, and grade-level English language arts (ELA) and math performance. Failing to meet any one of these targets is considered failure to meet Title III requirements.

If a district fails to meet requirements four years in a row, it’s required to notify parents, develop an improvement plan - called a Year 4 Plan - and modify its curriculum. If the district continues to fail, the state department of education can step in, determine if additional funding is needed, and require districts to replace “relevant” personnel.

The bad news Fisher brought last week was that SCUSD has failed to meet portions of these accountability measures for four consecutive years and now the district must develop a Title III Year 4 Plan.

But the actual student performance picture isn’t bad. SCUSD has consistently met the AYP and proficiency targets. Where it has failed, however, is in meeting targets for EL students’ grade-level academic performance in math and ELA.

“One of the problems is students who’ve been in EL programs more than five years and aren’t making acceptable progress,” said Fischer. “Which isn’t just a Santa Clara Unified problem, but is widespread in California, that students in the program are stalling.”

“I think it’s extremely difficult to look at one number [for district performance,” said Trustee Andy Ratermann. “For example, H1-B visa children come from highly educated families and often school systems where English is mandatory. That’s going to affect the results. We have to look at this data very carefully.”

“I believe we’re over-relying on data that’s out of date,” said UTSC President Michael Hickey. “We can’t meet these goals because they’re based on the CST and there’s no CST anymore. This data does not demonstrate in and of itself that the program is the problem.”

After exhaustive discussion of the statistics’ meaning, the merits of dual-immersion programs vs. the bilingual programs, the minutiae of classroom activities, and the historical percentage of immigrant students in the district, the board approved Fischer’s program for getting out of “Year Four Plan” category. She emphasized that the core of the issue was procedural - having a process for ensuring consistent support across the district for students and teachers - and monitoring those activities.

The plan includes an EL leadership team that will analyze current district and school programs, and deliver solutions to any deficiencies they identify. It also includes extensive training for all teachers and administrators in methods for increasing academic achievement for ELs, parent involvement as well as making immigrants aware of the educational services available to them, and hiring a Director of Supplemental and English Learner programs.

The district’s goals by June 2015 are to increase:

  • The percentage of EL students making acceptable yearly progress to 59 from 57.5.
  • The percentage of students who have been in the program less than five years achieving proficiency in English to 30 from 28.7.
  • The percentage of students who have been in the program more than five years achieving proficiency in English to 49 from 42.1.
  • Graduation rates for ELs to 75 from 69.
  • Grade-level performance in math and ELA to 100 percent for all ELs.

To find out more about Title III, visit. www.cde.ca.gov/ta/ac/t3/documents/infoguide12-13.pdf.

Middle College GPA Weighting Applied Retroactively

At Thursday’s board meeting, SCUSD Middle College student representative, Marcos Rodriguez, brought up a question that has apparently been festering awhile.

While students in conventional high schools who take community college classes get a bump - “weighting” - in their GPAs, students enrolled in the Mission Middle College program - where they attend all their classes at the college campus - didn’t get that weighting. Last February the board ruled all students taking college courses get the same treatment, but it wasn’t applied retroactively.

Trustee Ina Benda immediately demanded an investigation of employees concerned in recording and reporting grades. She was interrupted by Board President Christine Koltermann, who wanted to refer the question to the Superintendent; provoking a testy exchange about whether the President can stop conversation.

According to Roberts Rules, anything off topic is out of order and discussion of it can be stopped. In Koltermann’s view, proposing investigations was off the topic of GPAs, and investigations of employee conduct were closed session matters.

It turned out Superintendent Stan Rose had already brought together staff members involved in the retroactively changing the grades and reporting the changes to college admissions offices. The issue was resolved and grades corrected, Rose reported, with “remarkably fast” turnaround.

How important is that weighted GPA? Not very, says college admissions consultant Todd Johnson. Most colleges, except University of California schools, only consider unweighted GPAs, simply because there’s no standard.

Recognitions

Testifying to Cabrillo Middle School’s outstanding program for English Learners - Cabrillo’s test scores for the group increased 26 percent last year - last week’s board meeting honored two students who came to the U.S. in 2010 and have graduated from the EL program, Akashdeep Singh and Morwan Siry.

The high point of the recognition was Cabrillo Principal Stan Garber singing “Oh Lord, won’t you buy Lourdes some neeeeeewwwww headphones,” about Cabrillo’s remarkable ESL teacher Lourdes Martin’s constant need for additional headphones in her classes. Although it was popular with the audience, it’s unlikely to compete with Janis Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz.”