California Educator

August 2015

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trying to rush students through the process. But if you reclassify students too soon, they don't get the services they still need." Once a student is moved to a higher ELD status, they can't return to the previous level, says Ortega, because policy dictates that students may not move to a lower ELD status. Jose Duran, ELD teacher at Buhach Colony High School in Merced and a member of the Language Acqui- sition Committee, thinks mistakes on reclassification sometimes happen if there is a "mismatch" between teacher and students. "Sometimes, there isn't a cultural connection," says Duran, Merced Union High School District Teachers Association. "You have to connect with them culturally. You also have to sell them on education and the need to learn English. Some of these kids are disengaged with the school and don't feel a part of things. You can't just have them open their book to page 65 and expect them to learn." The PPIC study released last year concludes that students should be reclassified sooner to avoid lagging academically. According to the study, students who started elementary school as ELs and were reclassified by fifth grade were among the highest-achieving students in their districts, even compared with native English speakers. A study by Californians Together reports that three out of four ELs in grades 6-12 have been in schools for seven years or more and lack the English skills they need to suc- ceed. These students are called long-term English learners (LTELs), a new term resulting from 2012 legislation, mak- ing California the first state having this designation. Concern about EL students lagging academically has rekindled the debate over whether schools should return to bilingual education. The California Mul- tilingual Education Act (Senate Bill 1174) is on the November 2016 ballot. If approved, it would repeal most of Proposition 227 of 1998, allowing non-English languages for instruction. TIME FOR UNIFORM STANDARDS? The PPIC calls for an end to the wide variations among districts in determining mastery of English, and demands that standards be uniform and simplified. Senate Bill 409 by Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, which is pending, proposes to mandate statewide reclassification criteria, which teach- ers say would solve the problem. CTA has taken a "support" position on this. Not everyone agrees on the need for uniformity. At the California Depart- ment of Education, Lily Roberts, interim director of assessment development, and Veronica Aguila, division director for English learners, say districts need "local flexibility" to determine fluency, and what works in one district may not be best in another. The state has received funding to study whether reclassi- fication is working across the state. Some CTA members say they would like a clear state policy on designating students as English fluent, since statewide standards are so variable. "If you want to compare apples to apples, you need the same criteria," says Duran. "I believe we need uniform reclassification criteria across the state." "Not having universal mandates or protocol is not beneficial for students, and makes it difficult for teachers," says Kubisch. "When it varies from district to district, some kids aren't getting the support they need and deserve." EL students need encouragement, patience, support and resources, say teachers. "My English learners are hard workers and always give me 100 percent of their effort," adds Kubisch. "They are doing their best to learn a new language and a new culture. We need to do our best for them." Homar Juarez, ELD coordinator at Stagg High School in Stockton, with Brianna Ayala. 47 V O L U M E 2 0 I S S U E 1 Learning

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