The latest test scores for California’s English learners show them continuing to progress as schools have refocused on early English fluency.
Opponents of Proposition 227 had said the measure, which California voters passed in 1998, would spell disaster. But the mandate that schools teach children “overwhelmingly” in English, rather than in their native languages, has resulted in a large, demonstrable improvement in English proficiency.
In 2005, 47 percent of California’s English learners scored in the top two categories of English proficiency – “early advanced” or “advanced.” By comparison, only 25 percent scored in the top two categories in 2001, shortly after many districts began eliminating their bilingual programs. That’s an improvement of 22 percentage points.
Another important victory is the rate at which English learners are included in state assessments. Last year, over 1.3 million English learners took the California English Language Development Test (CELDT). In 1998, 72 percent of them participated in the state’s test for English language arts. By 2004, this rate had improved to 97 percent.
But despite real progress in improving test scores and including English learners in the state’s accountability system, California’s schools are still not realizing the same progress when it comes to transitioning immigrant children into the mainstream.
So long as they don’t score poorly on any one section, students with an overall CELDT score in these top two categories are considered by the state to be proficient in English. But while almost half of California’s English learners scored in these top two proficiency categories for the last two years, only 9 percent of them were reclassified as English proficient.
In other words, even though these students are proficient in English, many are still being segregated from mainstream English-speaking classrooms.
“We clearly need to look at why this gap is occurring and determine how to address it,” said Jack O’Connell, the State Superintendent of Public Instruction. He is now urging districts to review their reclassification procedures, which is a step in the right direction. But he hasn’t yet offered any specific solutions.
Continuing to find better solutions for this large and growing segment of the population will be critical – not just for their future, but for California’s economic future as well. Students classified as English learners usually do not have access to more challenging curriculum that can better prepare them for college and beyond, such as advanced placement courses that would give them college credit.
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