Low-income English learners, a group composed largely of Spanish-speaking Latino families, are not picking up the language as well as the English-learning population on the whole, according to Phyllis Rodgers, director of the district's English language learner program. Recent data collected from standardized English proficiency tests showed there was an even larger gap between the low income and Latino subsets of English learners and English learners from Europe.
Rodgers acknowledged that there was a definite correlation between Latino students and low English proficiency, but attributed the gap to socio-economic factors.
Since 2008, more than 400 English language learners have entered the Mountain View Whisman School District.
This school year, scores from the California English Language Development Test show that 30 percent of white English learners were designated "advanced," while 6 percent were considered to be "beginners." On the other hand, 23 percent of English-learning Hispanics were at the beginner level and only 7 percent were highly proficient.
Rodgers said that the gap in performance between whites and Hispanics was most likely due to the fact that many Latin American immigrants living in Mountain View are not as well equipped to help their children learn the new language as other families within the English-learning population — especially European families, who are often college educated and drawn to the area by the promise of high tech jobs.
In a presentation to the district's board of trustees Jan. 6, Rodgers used two bar graphs to compare the proficiency of English-learning Hispanic students against the socio-economically disadvantaged English-learning subset. The two charts were nearly identical.
"We're not meeting the needs of kids that we need to be meeting," she said.
Socio-economically disadvantaged students are those whose parents have not earned a high school diploma or who qualify for free or reduced-cost lunches.
The low scores among English-learning Hispanic students concern Rodgers, especially considering that they account for 75 percent of the district's English learners and about 30 percent of the entire Mountain View Whisman student body.
Last year Theuerkauf Elementary School missed state-mandated standardized test targets for English and language arts scores among its Hispanic and English language learner subgroup. Missing those targets was part of the reason Theuerkauf is currently in "program improvement," a designation that prompted a handful of parents to pull their children out of the school.
The latest test scores are troubling, Rodgers said, but she is positive about what the future holds. Even as she readily acknowledges the challenges facing the district, she draws inspiration from her past. The daughter of two first-generation immigrants, Rodgers grew up in a household where her father never spoke English and her mother only learned the language in an informal way.
"Look where I am," she said, speaking with no hint of an accent. "It certainly is something that can be done."
Still, she said, it would be best if parents did as much as they can to encourage their children to learn English. Even if they don't have the time to learn the language themselves, parents must encourage their children to learn English and keep on them about completing homework assignments, Rodgers said.
Such guidance is often missing in socio-economically disadvantaged households, Rodgers said, noting that in many of these homes parents lack an advanced education and may be working multiple jobs just to keep their children clothed and fed.
The district is working to reach less affluent families and make it easier for the parents to engage with teachers and administration, Rodgers said. The schools have translators available and phone trees that offer options in both English and Spanish.
"It takes a partnership with the families to make a kid successful," she said.