Modesto Schools OK English Criteria

Non-English speaking students in Modesto now have a clearly lit path to follow while learning the language.

The Modesto City Schools board unanimously voted Monday to approve new
kindergarten- through sixth-grade English Language Development standards. The new requirements are in response to the state Department of Education’s new English-learner guidelines released in July 1999.

The district’s general English Language Arts standards, adopted in 1997, included a plan for English learners. But those requirements had to be revised to reflect the state’s new dictate. A committee of teachers and administrators has been working since August to create the district’s plan.

“The ELD standards will help students get on the freeway to English Language Arts success,” said Olivia Sosa, administrator with the special projects/English learner programs. “This provides them a quick on-ramp. Before, students would get on, but they would only travel 20 to 25 miles per hour, so they would never catch up.”

Some 4,000 kindergarten- through sixth-grade students in the district are currently classified as English learners in sheltered or bilingual classes. The new standards chart those students’ progress through five language levels: beginning, early intermediate, intermediate, early advanced and advanced.

In each language level, students must master certain skills in listening/speaking, reading and writing. Once a student has finished all the steps, he or she should be fluent and ready to switch to general English classes.

“These (standards) are in no way watered down; they are as rigorous as the ELA students,” said Angela Salinas, a committee member and Orville Wright kindergarten teacher. “We are just trying to keep in mind the students receiving this are coming from varied levels of English knowledge.”

District officials said the changes make it clearer for students and their parents to see growth and improvement. It also shows them how far they have to go.

“This is a good tool to help parents and teachers understand where they are progressing in English language development,” said committee member Mary Edy, a fourth-grade teacher at Franklin Elementary. “These guidelines make it really easy.”

The new standards will be phased in over the next two years. Kindergarten through sec-ond-grade teachers will be trained next school year and third- to sixth-grade teachers the next year.

The board also approved new ELD textbooks, costing $260,000, from state instructional material funds. The last ELD books were bought in 1991. Training will cost about $50,000 from state, federal and district funds.

With new requirements, the state hopes to prepare students for the English Language Development test beginning spring 2001.

Staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at 578-2284 or at mrowland@modbee.com



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