Students with limited English struggle with Common Core standards

mhankerson@newsobserver.comJanuary 16, 2014 

  • By the numbers

    Proficiency rates for Limited English Proficient students in Knightdale schools

    Elementary school

    Wake County average: 20 percent

    Hodge Road: 7 percent

    Forestville Road: 24 percent

    Knightdale: 22 percent

    Lockhart: 16 percent

    Middle school

    Wake County average: 12 percent

    East Wake: 6 percent

    High school

    Wake County average: 11 percent

    Knightdale: 4 percent

— All Common Core state standards were created equal.

Even for students who may not speak English as their first language, creators of the standards say the reading- and writing-intensive requirements can be fulfilled with more help from teachers and English as a Second Language programs.

It’s a steep request for schools in towns like Knightdale, which had 11.9 percent of all its students are considered limited in their English proficiency.

It also figures to be part of the effort to improve Knightdale-area schools in the wake of a critical audit.

Hodge Road Elementary had the most LEP students in Knightdale, with 250. Knightdale High School has the lowest number of LEP students, with 91, but the school’s LEP students also had the lowest proficiency scores on end-of-grade tests among the town’s six schools, with a proficiency rate of just 4 percent.

And even though test scores were down throughout the county this year, LEP students’ performance was especially low.

Forestville Road Elementary had the highest-performing LEP students in Knightdale, with a 24 percent proficiency rate. Proficiency measures how many students are performing at or above grade level.

Regardless of the results of the first round of testing Carrie Phillips, national program director of Common Core State Standards, said improvement and better scores are possible for all students, including those who are still learning English.

Equal standards

In the past, Phillips said, some standards seemed to taught with more importance and emphasis. With Common Core, all standards are meant to be equally important.

“The standards were created to be only the most critical skills and knowledge students needed,” Phillips said.

A lot of those skills and knowledge carry over into all subject areas.

The standards emphasize the importance of communication: not just reading and writing, but speaking and listening as well.

The idea was to have all states adopt the standards so all students were learning the same things, making it easier to relocate and to create more equity among school systems.

Currently, all states except Virginia, Texas, Alaska, Minnesota and Nebraska have implemented or plan to implement Common Core standards

While English and language arts standards focus on reading comprehension and writing skills, speaking and listening skills also show up in subjects like science and math, Phillips said.

“Previous standards often required students to memorize; these standards are requiring students to apply the knowledge,” she said. Why does this matter?

“Previous standards often focused on grammar and vocabulary for ESL (instruction),” Phillips said “(Common Core) is focusing ... (on being) able to communicate and to be able to read more complex texts, not just have perfect grammar.”

But for students who can’t even grasp the content well enough to memorize because of a language barrier, applying knowledge and reading and comprehending on higher levels can be next to impossible.

Improvement will mean training

MariaRosa Rangel, Wake County Public Schools’ senior administrator for Family and Community Engagement, said it can take some ESL students almost their whole academic career to learn the “academic English” they need to be successful in school.

“As they’re learning the language, one of the barriers is time,” Rangel said. “It takes time for them to learn cognitive academic langage and that could take up to nine years whereas your basic English they could learn in two years.”

When test scores were presented in November, school officials said teachers would have to adjust planning and instruction to help students perform at higher levels. Phillips said the same will hold true for ESL instructors.

“While students are learning English, they should be learning the Common Core, not waiting until after,” she said. “(We aren’t saying) this is an easy task; this will requrie a lot of stupport for these students and training for teachers.”

Rangel said the same: classroom teachers and ESL instructors will have to work together more closely to help students with limited English skills be successful under the new standards. For most teachers, this might require additional training, she said.

Every student who comes to Wake County schools must fill out a form about what languages he or she knows. If a student marks anything besides English, they are admitted into the ESL program and teachers at the student’s school are alerted so they can make modifications.

For testing, ESL students take the same tests but can receive accomodations, like more time, having the test read aloud if it is not a reading test or being provided a word-to-word bilingual dictionary.

But for day-to-day instruction before the tests, Rangel said ESL instruction is the best way to help with test scores.

“(They are) helping them learn language vocabulary (but) they also are teaching them to learn the content language they need to really understand the content area subjects,” she said.

Hankerson: 919-829-4826; Twitter: @easternwakenews

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