Core math demands more English

Under Common Core standards, math will require more English fluency, writes Pat Wingert on the Hechinger Report.

At Laurel Street Elementary School in Los Angeles, 90 percent of students get a subsidized lunch and 60 percent aren’t yet fluent in English. Yet 83 percent scored at proficient or higher on a recent state language-arts exam, and 91 percent scored that high on the math test.

Laurel Street kids can excel in math while still learning to read and speak English, said fourth-grade math teacher Angel Chavarin. This year, teachers worry the new standards require more sophisticated vocabularies.

“The language demands of the Common Core are enormous,” said Ben Sanders of the California Office to Reform Education. “This is absolutely going to be a big challenge to English learners.”

Common Core emphasizes complex word problems and requires students to explain in writing how they solved the problem, writes Wingert.

Third-grade teacher Alejandra Monroy, who was born in Chile, started a lesson on “repeated addition” with a vocabulary lesson.

“There are very important words you need to know,” she told her class. “If you’re doing a multiplication problem — 3 x 4 = 12 — the numbers `3’ and ‘4’ are the FACTORS and the ‘12’ is the PRODUCT. All the numbers and symbols together—3 x 4 =12—is a “MULTIPLICATION SENTENCE.”

“What is this?” Monroy asked, pointing to the equation.

“A multiplication sentence,” the class echoed back.

Next, Monroy stressed that repeated addition involves “patterns,” in this case, 4+4+4 = 12

We need to know that a pattern is a regular or repeated sequence,” she said. “A pattern can be something like red/blue/red/blue, right? A sequence that repeats. When you count by skipping numbers—2-4-6—you’re doing a PATTERN.”

Laurel Street’s district uses a structured curriculum adapted from Singapore Math by a local teacher.

 To determine if the changes they’re making are on the right track, Laurel Street teachers monitor their kids’ performance in class and on weekly assessments that grade-level teams create together. Each student’s score is then added to a spreadsheet and scrutinized by the principal, all the teachers and even parents and students.

If one class gets better scores than the others, teachers don’t hesitate to compare notes and incorporate the most effective strategies into their own lesson plans, said fifth-grade teacher Rebecca Harris. It’s about collaboration, not competition, she said. “We learn from each other.”

“We do more of what works, and less of what doesn’t work,” says Principal Frank Lozier.

Small school students show gains

New York City’s small public high schools are producing gains for disadvantaged students, according to a new MDRC study, Sustained Progress.

Students who win the admissions lottery to these schools are significantly more likely to earn a high school diploma (70.4 percent) than applicants who lost the lottery (60.9 percent) than lottery losers. Small schools  increased the graduation rates of special-education students by 13.8 percentage points and of English Language Learners by 4.9 percentage points, MDRC suggests, though the sample size is small.

Teaching English Learners

The new American Educator features articles on teaching English Learners to master new standards.

American Educator, Summer 2013 cover

CREDO: Charters do better in reading

Charter students show greater learning gains in reading and similar gains in math compared to students in traditional public schools, concludes the National Charter School Study 2013 by Stanford’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO).

The neediest students show the strongest gains: Low-income students, blacks and English Learners “gain significantly more days of learning each year in both reading and math” if they attended charter schools rather than traditional public schools, the study found.

More charter schools are high performers and some underperforming charters have closed, concludes CREDO, which analyzed data from 26 states and New York City.

“The results reveal that the charter school sector is getting better on average and that charter schools are benefiting low-income, disadvantaged, and special education students,” says Dr. Margaret Raymond, director of CREDO.

Charter school enrollment has grown among students who are in poverty, black students, and Hispanic students, the study found.

Charters do the best for the worst students, according to an MIT analysis reported by the Boston Globe.

Lower-income students who performed poorly on tests while attending traditional public schools did much better after enrolling in charter schools. Moreover, their improvement was greater than fellow charter students who had previously tested well in traditional public schools.

In other words, those most in need of educational improvement tended to benefit the most from charter schools.

A string of recent studies have found urban charter schools produce learning gains, while suburban and rural charters have mixed results.

Poor English skills cost adults $3,000 a year

The 16.5 million Spanish-speaking adults who aren’t proficient in English forego $37.7 billion a year in earnings, estimates the Lexington Institute. That’s about $3,000 a year in earnings per worker.

Up to 59 percent of California’s English Learners — students who don’t test proficient in English — have been enrolled in U.S. schools for six years or more, according to Californians Together. California is now focusing on “long-term English Learners.”

Union’s charter school faces closure

To prove a union contract is no barrier to school success, the United Federation of Teachers opened its own UFT Charter School in Brooklyn in 2005, notes Gotham Schools. After seven years of turmoil, the union-run K-9 school may be closed for low performance.

Fewer than a third of students are reading on grade level, and the math proficiency rate among eighth-graders is less than half the city average.

On the school’s most recent progress report, released last week, the Department of Education gave it a D and ranked it even lower than one of its co-located neighbors, J.H.S. 166, which the city tried to close last year and now has shortlisted again for possible closure.

Two years ago, the school received a three-year extension on its charter instead of five years because of performance concerns.

Test scores have plummeted since then, the school has cycled through multiple principals, and enrollment is down to just 70 percent of capacity.

The UFT Charter School performs worse than other schools in the district, despite enrolling fewer special education students and far fewer English Learners, reports Gotham Schools.

The UFT picked “teacher leaders” to run the elementary and middle schools. Turnover has been high.

“We are continuing to see progress and innovation at many teacher-led schools,” American Federation of Teachers leader Randi Weingarten told Gotham Schools in an e-mail. She praised Green Dot New York Charter School in the Bronx, a union partner with a “thin contract” that gives teachers some, but not all, their usual rights.

When English Learners don’t learn

By middle and high school, 59 percent of California’ s English Language Learners aren’t making progress, a study by Californians Together found. Now, if the governor signs the bill, California will be the first state to report data on “long-term” ELLS, reports Ed Week.

A long-term English-learner is defined as a student who’s attended U.S. schools for more than six years, but tests poorly in English Language Arts and in English proficiency and hasn’t moved up a level on the state’s English proficiency exam for two years or more.

These non-learners typically speak English as well (or poorly) as they speak Spanish, but don’t read or write well in either language.  They’ve lived down to low expectations.

In Tracy, where 55 percent of secondary students are long-term ELLs, teachers have created a supplementary class to teach writing, “academic” English, critical reading and study skills, reports Ed Week.

Children from non-English-speaking families who test as proficient in English by second or third grade are high performers who do very well in school.  Those who  leave ELL status by the end of elementary school have a good shot at success.  But the kids who haven’t made it by sixth grade face long odds of completing high school. California has lots and lots of these kids — and I’d bet other states do too.

Faster exit from English Learner status

Any “English Learner” who scores proficient in English and earns a B average should be out of the program, argues Assemblyman Chris Norby, R-Fullerton, in an Orange County Register commentary. Norby, who’s taught immigrants as a high school and night school ESL teacher, has introduced a bill to do that. Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, has a bill to change the home language survey, which can place a child in the English Learner program if any adult speaks a language other than English ever.

The California English Language Development Test is difficult to pass, especially for those barely able to read, and there is no statewide standard as to what is a passing grade. School funding is based partly on ELL percentages, so there is a financial incentive to keep kids in the program. Annual testing is costly, time-consuming and takes students away from valuable class time.

Parental petitions to remove their kids from ELL are routinely rejected. Some are told that, while their child may be conversant in English, they don’t yet know “academic English.” Well, what first-grader does?

Poorly educated parents don’t know how to get their kids out of ELL status, Norby writes. In Santa Ana, where 11 percent of the K-12 students are foreign-born, 55 percent are classified as ELL. In wealthier Irvine,  19 percent of the students are born abroad – mostly from Asia and the Middle East — yet only 13 percent are ELL.

“In a globalized economy, California’s bilingual kids are an asset to our state and should not be placed in academic dumping grounds,” Norby writes.

Failure guaranteed

Failure is almost guaranteed for four- and five-year-olds who take California’s test to identify “English Learners,” I write on Pajamas Media. Only 12 percent of entering kindergartners who take the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) are deemed fluent in English, even though 85 percent were born in the U.S., concludes a new study by Berkeley’s Center for Latino Policy Research. Outside of Los Angeles, the CELDT pass rate is 6 percent.

One in three California elementary students is classified as an English Learner. That’s because schools are misidentifying large numbers of children, conclude Berkeley Education Professor Lisa García Bedolla and researcher Rosaisela Rodriguez.  As a result, teaching and tutoring resources are spread thin: Some kids are taught skills they already know, while others don’t get enough help.

It all starts with the home language survey, which asks about the child’s first language, the language he or she speaks most often at home, the languages the adults speak at home, and what language the parents speak most often with their child.

If Mom mentions a language other than English — or in addition to English — the child will be given the nearly unpassable CELDT, the researchers find.

Maybe Grandma lives with the family and speaks Spanish?  A five-year-old will be given a two-hour test which requires him to talk to a stranger with no parent in the room.

Children that young can’t handle a two-hour test, the researchers say. Observers report children crying and hiding under chairs or tables. CELDT, which keeps getting longer, has added reading and writing questions for children who haven’t started kindergarten.

Schools get more money for English Learners, which provides an incentive to identify as many children as possible and keep them in the program, even when they test as proficient on CELDT.  Few children are in bilingual classes these days, but some schools hire aides who provide help in children’s native language — or what’s supposed to be their native language. Many are pulled out of class for instruction in basic English.

State policy OKs special ed ‘cheating’

Some testing modifications for special ed students and English Learners amount to cheating, writes Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, author of Fixing Special Education, on Thoughts on Public Education. “Providing a calculator for a student on a math computation test, having an instructor read a reading test to a student or giving extended time on a test that measures results under time pressure” will not produce valid scores.

Isn’t this, too, a form of  “cheating”? Certainly it cheats students out of knowing what they can and cannot do. Also it cheats schools, taxpayers, and parents from getting a valid measure of student achievement.

California reported higher scores on the state Academic Performance Index this year. But the API now includes scores from a much easier test given to increasing numbers of students with learning disabilities, Freedman writes.