District readies programs for English learners | February 1, 2008 | Mountain View Voice | Mountain View Online |


Mountain View Voice

News - February 1, 2008

District readies programs for English learners

Mountain View Whisman addresses achievement gap for Latino students

by Casey Weiss

As the Mountain View Whisman School District continues to see a steady increase in English language learners — and a consistent achievement gap among these students — teachers in the district have begun efforts to combat the trend.

Central to the efforts is the district's English Language Learners Committee, which formed in September to address the needs of these students. Committee members have been observing programs in other districts and say they've identified a lack of adequate developmental materials and teacher training. In response, the committee has begun piloting its own development materials.

According to the state, more than 40 percent of Mountain View Whisman's students are English language learners (ELL). The total number has grown by over 500 students in the last five years alone.

"Teaching English as a second language requires different skills than teaching mathematics and basic reading," said Judy Crates, who heads the ELL Committee. "Teachers haven't been taught these skills." Crates said it's important that the committee have a consistent program from grade to grade.

Under the direction of the committee, district teachers have started implementing 30 minutes a day of curriculum aimed specifically at English learners. The district also provided teachers with additional resource materials, and plans to hold an all-day training exercise on English language development in March, according to Assistant Superintendent Mary Lairon.

The committee has surveyed the resources offered elsewhere to ELL students, looked at their test scores for the last seven years, and is now working with teachers to observe programs in Redwood City, San Jose and Santa Clara.

"Our Hispanic English language learners weren't doing as well. When we looked at the test scores it became clearer," Crates said. "We looked at student progress to see what areas were successful and what is keeping students from being successful."

Crates, a former principal of Bubb Elementary and Graham Middle schools, hopes that with lessons learned and changes implemented, the district's ELL students who start as beginners in English will become fluent within five years.

E-mail Casey Weiss at cweiss@mv-voice.com