Students are failing and earning poor test scores because much of the English-as-a-Second-Language instruction in the Salt Lake City School District doesn’t work, ESL and bilingual teachers told the city’s school board Tuesday.
For instance, all of the limited-English-proficiency students in one Salt Lake elementary school’s fourth grade failed a recent reading and writing test.
”The instruction doesn’t work in the beginning, and we know it doesn’t work in the end,” said Luc Pham, an ESL teacher at Washington Elementary School.
The Salt Lake City Board of Education got the bad news Tuesday not from the federal Office of Civil Rights but from the district’s own English as a Second Language and bilingual teachers.
Seven Utah school districts have come under review by the civil rights office in the past three years.
Educators pointed to numerous problems in Salt Lake City, among them a lack of sufficient materials and a sparse number of ESL teachers.
The 2,994 students with limited English proficiency who attend the city’s elementary schools are taught by six full-time and six part-time teachers. Most are served by classroom assistants paid $5 to $8 an hour who have little or no training.
Less than half of the elementary students eligible for services receive them, according to the district’s own numbers.
”You’ll note in almost every case there is a significant discrepancy (between the numbers of eligible students and students served). This is out of compliance with OCR,” said Kit Taylor, who leads elementary ESL teachers on the district’s east side.
Board member Cliff Higbee noted the numbers were somewhat misleading because they do not reflect the numbers of teachers who are endorsed to teach English as a Second Language.
Even so, the number of students with limited English proficiency continues to grow, and some students’ limitations are profound.
”Some students have never been to school. They don’t even know how to hold a book or hold a pencil. They’re totally illiterate,” said Taylor.
Taylor said she believes the district’s bilingual and ESL programs are in ”critical condition.”
Responding to a charge by Superintendent Darline Robles, a committee of parents, teachers and administrators has developed an alternative language master plan.
The plan, presented to the school board during a five-hour study session Tuesday, suggests that schools would choose bilingual or English immersion programs. Bilingual education would involve instruction in two languages, and immersion programs would provide intense instruction in small groups.
The recommendations also include requiring better training for teachers and classes that do not segregate less-proficient students. Currently, most schools in the district put such students in a group setting with other students who are not proficient in English.