Mountain View Voice

News - November 9, 2012

School district gets specific in English learners plan

Master plan aims to improve performance of students struggling with second language

by Nick Veronin

Officials with the local elementary and middle school district are making a series of changes aimed at improving their program for students learning English.

"The original plan was very generic," Phyllis Rodgers said of the "Master Plan for English Language Learners," which codifies the district's ELL instructional policies and best practices. "Now we're being very specific about what we are going to do."

The last major revisions made to the Mountain View Whisman School District's plan came in 2006, a year after it was created, according to Rodgers, director of ELL programs for the district. Since that time, not much has been added to the master plan, even though many new practices have been incorporated into the district's general curriculum for students learning English.

The updated plan is nothing if not specific. The final draft, approved by the MVWSD's board of trustees at the beginning of October, is close to 90-pages of protocol and best practices for teaching English to non-native speakers. It lays out procedures for training teachers, working with parents of ELL students, assessing student achievement and determining where to place those students based upon the assessment data. The guide is intended to last through the end of 2015.

English learners account for 40 percent of all Mountain View Whisman students. As such, it is important that the district be very deliberate in its approach to teaching those students, Rodgers said. The ultimate goal of the master plan is to narrow the achievement gap between native English speakers and English learners — a task the district has already made great strides toward achieving, according to Rodgers.

"We know that it's working," she said. She noted that the district's ELL scores have been on the rise and putting it within the top 50 school districts in the state when it comes to ELL proficiency.

New to this iteration of the Master Plan is a call for stepped-up progress monitoring of individual students, along with the possibility of mid-year adjustments to a student's English language development plan, Rodgers said. Three times a year, now, the district will take a look at multiple data points to determine whether students are advancing according to district-set benchmarks. Adjustments to a student's English language development plan depend on whether he or she is falling short, meeting expectations or excelling.

To accommodate this more fluid system, the district has expanded the number of classes devoted specifically to English language development for ELL students, Rodgers said. Not only are there more classes available — there are now more teachers trained to teach them and a wider range of classes available for each grade level. The aim is to make it so no student is enrolled in a class that is too remedial or too advanced.

The updated master plan is also intended to address what Rodgers called "long-term English learners" — students who have been taking classes for five years or more but still haven't met proficiency standards. "They are getting stuck," Rodgers said of long-term ELL students. "We're implementing this new program to support them."

The entire Master Plan for English Language Learners can be found on the MVWSD website under the board agenda's section, www.mvwsd.org/images/Board_Agenda2012-13/EL Master Plan.pdf

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