Some English learners are lagging behind

Gap in test scores worries MV Whisman officials

A growing number of elementary and middle school students are learning to speak English in Mountain View schools, although one subset within the English-learning population is lagging, local education officials say.

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.


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Posted by VD
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 31, 2011 at 2:48 pm

"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."

And these Latin American immigrants are drawn to the area by the promise of ............?

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Posted by the_punnisher
a resident of Whisman Station
on Jan 31, 2011 at 3:04 pm

[Post removed due to disrespectful comment or offensive language

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Posted by Observer
a resident of Old Mountain View
on Jan 31, 2011 at 5:56 pm

So many problems with this article--mainly some serious PC editing going on.

Any idiot could figure out that the majority of these families of failing children are from Mexico. How? Just ask them, or ask around if you are afraid to. But The Voice calls them Latin American? That's a slur against an entire continent. Why not just call them North American uneducated and socio-economically disadvanaged Spanish-speaking, mostly-illegal residents of Mountain View?

Also decide on how your are going to use such terms as Latino or Hispanic, because I can guarantee you both are pretty broad terms, although Latino is definitely a better fit here.

Another thing. Ms. Rodgers' parents were from Europe, so pick another brush to paint a comparison with. She is part of the very same ethnic group she use to illustrate the acheivement gap. Wow, that's a convenient omission. How tough would it have been to ask her, "Gee, and where were your parents from Ms. Rodgers?"

What is this paper so afraid of other than the truth??

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Posted by Margaret
a resident of Willowgate
on Jan 31, 2011 at 7:14 pm

I just wanted to say how embarrassing and appalling I think the_punisher's comments about toilet training and being civilized are.

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Posted by mvparent
a resident of Monta Loma
on Jan 31, 2011 at 10:17 pm

What about summer school, an extended school day and other educational strategies to improve the outcomes of low-income students? Schools that are held up as models of success with low-income students have longer school days and longer school years as part of their approach.

Better school breakfast and lunch nutrition would help too. Take a look at the horrible food, full of sugar and fats. that is given to the kids from the poorest families every morning and noon as part of the free breakfast/lunch program.

Is there an analysis of academic performance comparing low-income Latino students with higher-income Latino students in the district? Comparing low-income Latino students with all other low-income students?

How much of the issue is poverty vs language learning is critical to analyze in order to figure out the appropriate responses and interventions.

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Posted by Dominick
a resident of Waverly Park
on Jan 31, 2011 at 11:08 pm

I was a first generation child who of my two parents, one was illiterate and the other had only 2 years of schooling. But we did not speak our parent's home language at home we spoke English.
While in Grade school we had two sisters who were just off the boat from Italy. Our teacher told us their names and went back to our lesson. Those two sisters within a month were speaking English.
The problem with the mexican children,I see in public with their parents,is they speak spanish only. As long as the parents cling to spanish their children are doomed to be non-English speaking when they enter our school. We should teach the parents English so they can communicate in the language of the land.
Funny, the TV programs do not have spanish sub-titles but the mexican children seem to understand what's going on on the screen

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Posted by Old Ben
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 1, 2011 at 8:45 am

Mexico does not accept immigrants who do not speak Spanish.

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Posted by schools
a resident of Shoreline West
on Feb 2, 2011 at 12:10 pm

Another drain on our schools. Parents need to be leveraged.

There should be a pass/fail test to advance a grade in public schools if you fail three times you are suspended or expelled.

Like this comment
Posted by anonymous
a resident of another community
on Feb 5, 2011 at 2:58 pm

- and we wonder why California state test scores are so low.

Multiply this "situation" by a whole bunch of school districts in this state. Problem is, we taxpayers are then told we must remedy this!

It is time for legal citizens/green card holders to receive public schooling.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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