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Old 02-16-2006, 08:09 AM   #1
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CA Students' English Proficiency Drops...Or Does It?

from the Contra Costa Times

Nearly half the 1.3 million students who took the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) scored high enough to be considered proficient in English, according to data released today from the State Department of Education. The same percentage of students, or 44%, tested fluent in English last year, marking the first time since the state began administering the test to non-native English speakers in 2001 that progress has slowed.
from the Los Angeles Daily News

"This is an indicator that tells us we need to do something," said Maria Quezada, president of the California Association of Bilingual Educators, an advocacy group. Quezada is not seeking a return to bilingual education, but says that without improved methods of teaching English, LA Unified School District students will "get stuck at that intermediate fluency. What is happening at the English-language development level is not appropriate. The instruction they're getting is not what has to happen."
from the Stockton Record

The CELDT is given each year to new students whose first language isn't English. Children whose scores show they lack sufficient English skills then take the test annually to gauge their language development. The test measures kindergartners' and first-graders' listening and speaking abilities. For older students, the test covers listening, speaking, reading and writing. Once students show they have skills comparable to their English-speaking peers--through "early advanced" or "advanced" scores on the CELDT--districts are supposed to move them out of the programs designed for non-native speakers.

But throughout the state and county, far more students are achieving scores showing they might be fluent than school districts are moving out of English-learner programs. Statewide, only 6-10% of English learners are reclassified by their school districts each year as fluent. Ultimately, remaining an "English learner" may prevent a student from enrolling in Advanced Placement courses and other college-preparation classes.

In the 2004-05 school year, while 11,842 students in San Joaquin County scored at the early advanced or advanced levels, only 1,950 were reclassified as fluent in English. That's because test scores alone aren't enough to tell whether a student who is new to English can succeed without extra help, educators from throughout the county said.

"We want to make sure that we move a student for reclassification when they have the best chance for success," said Frances Roberts, who oversees bilingual education for the Manteca Unified School District. The CELDT alone isn't enough to tell them that, she said. A student might know enough English to score well on the test, but not enough to study history, science, math and language arts without help. Even after students are reclassified, Roberts said, Manteca Unified tracks them for three years to make sure they are keeping up.

Lincoln Unified's Linda Fisher said it generally takes a student five to seven years to become fluent in English. The CELDT could prematurely show proficiency, she said. "There are times when a teacher will say, 'The test scores show the student is fluent, but I'm concerned,' " Fisher said. "We might need to wait a little longer."

Achieving on the CELDT is no guarantee a student will perform well on--or even understand -- standardized tests like the California High School Exit Exam, which is offered only in English, educators say.

But recent reports from the state Legislative Analyst's Office and the Bureau of State Audits note that some incentives might tempt districts to keep students in English-learner programs longer than needed. School districts receive state and federal money for English learners they enroll. Generally, that money is meant to buy special materials, fund teacher training and pay for other expenses that can help students learn English. More students reclassified as English proficient means less of that money. This year, San Joaquin County schools combined are to receive more than $17 million in state and federal money, based on the numbers of English learners they serve.
Hmmmm...yet another instance of the debate over who knows best when students are ready to move on, a teacher or a test...only this time it's the teachers arguing for holding more students back...

Thoughts, anyone?

I know next to nothing about ESL, and have no idea what measure of success (or lack thereof) a 44% fluency rate might represent. 1.3 million non-native speakers is certainly a very high number...anyone have any idea what percentage of CA students overall this represents? I'm sure individual counties' percentages vary widely.
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