For the past few months, school districts have been wrestling with the challenge of designing programs that comply with Proposition 227, and now they are dealing with the challenge of assessing whether those programs are effective.
At Hill Middle School in Long Beach Unified, several teachers have faced that challenge head on — and with some success.
In the fall of 1996, CSU Long Beach education professor Jana Echevarria went to Hill Middle School to find teachers willing to take part in a nationwide project, sponsored by the Center for Research in Educational Diversity and Excellence, to develop an effective model of sheltered content instruction.
Sheltered content instruction is an approach aimed at students not fluent in English.
In sheltered content instruction classes, limited-English students are taught in English with clarification as needed in their native tongue.
Sheltered content instruction has been going on for years, Echevarria said. “This is not a knee-jerk (reaction) to 227,” she said.
However, educators are constantly looking for ways to improve the approach, theorizing that often teachers think they are teaching it correctly when they are in fact doing nothing of the sort.
Eight teachers in Long Beach Unified and three teachers in Los Angeles Unified agreed to be part of the project and, together with Echevarria, spent a year developing several teaching techniques.
Then during the 1997-98 school year they tried out those techniques. One technique that seems to work well, teachers at Hill say, is partnering.
For example, when eighth-grade history teacher Martin Castillo assigns a research paper to his class of limited-English students, the students’ English teacher will then teach them the mechanics of how to put together a research paper.
This kind of cross-referencing reinforces lessons for students, said teacher and program facilitator Maggie Kerns.
About 400 of Hill’s more than 1,000 students are currently not fluent in English. Of those 400, 217 were taught last year by project teachers.
Although Echevarria is still analyzing results, she said she has found that after a year of being taught with these new techniques, most of these 217 students’ writing skills improved. This is in contrast with the writing skills of control groups who had not been taught with these special methods.
“There has been statistically significant improvement (in Hill students),” Echevarria said.
Each student was given a writing test at the beginning of the year and again at the end of the year. The test was scored on a scale from one to six, with six being the highest. Several students who had had fives went to sixes, Echevarria said. And several ones went to threes.
The teachers and Echevarria say they are pleased with the progress thus far. Echevarria added that if anything the progress shows sheltered content instruction works if done properly.
But Echevarria also cautions that it might not work on a larger scale. The Hill teachers have met many times over the past two years. These meetings were often during school hours, and the school would hire substitutes. It would not be financially feasible for large groups to do this, Echevarria said.
“It’s a luxury,” she said.