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For Students Struggling to Learn English, This Border State is Providing Specialized Help

January 7, 2015
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For Students Struggling to Learn English, This Border State is Providing Specialized Help
A new California initiative aims to identify and support “long-term English learners” in the public school system. Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images
California is working to help children of immigrants become fluent.

Being a land of immigrants, America is filled with people speaking a variety of languages. Unfortunately, however, children of these new Americans aren’t nearly as proficient in the English language as they need to be. So one state is doing something about it.

California’s initiative to define and identify “long-term English learners” is the first of its kind and comes in the form of a state law and programs by school districts.

The reason for this move? Data from a California study reported that 350,000 students in grades 6 to 12 that have been enrolled in California schools for at least seven years still aren’t fluent English speakers, according to Governing.

Of that group, 90,000 have been identified as long-term learners. To be labeled as such means that the student hasn’t progressed on California’s English proficiency exam for two consecutive years and scores below grade-level on English standardized tests.

According to a 2010 study by the nonprofit Californians Together, there are three main reasons why English language learning students are performing so poorly: (1) schools aren’t effectively monitoring student progress, (2) the curriculum isn’t suitable and (3) teachers need to be re-trained.

Governing reports that California school district LA United has taken a few steps to reverse their current situation: a third of their 600,000 students are still learning English and after five years, about 35,000 still aren’t at grade level. The district has added two new classes to its curriculum aimed at language skills, and it’s revamped its teacher training program. Additionally, since a relationship between teachers, parents and students is required, all three parties are involved in each student’s progress.

“These kids need to be visible,” Shelly Spiegel-Coleman of Californians Together tells Governing. “In many instances, these students are sitting in mainstream classes and are not getting any specialized help.”

Dasha Cifuentes is one such student. Currently enrolled at Fairfax High in Los Angeles, Cifuentes is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, but a native-born American. She has been in California public schools for 11 years, but is still not proficient.

“I should be more confident in English because I was born here, but I’m embarrassed that I haven’t improved myself,” Cifuentes says. “Now, I’m regretting my life not developing myself into a better person, and that hurts me the most,” Cifuentes tells Governing. “I’m more motivated, like a turtle coming out of its shell.”

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