Betsy Lew is fortunate. As the school year winds down, the first-grade teacher can look around her Whaley School classroom and see success.
Nearly all of her students are reading and doing math at grade level,
and many have already dived into the second-grade books.
Those accomplishments would be laudable in any classroom. But they are especially noteworthy in Lew’s class, where 14 of her 20 students started the year classified as “limited English proficient.”
Like all teachers in the Evergreen School District, Lew has eschewed bilingual education in favor of English instruction.
Students who speak little or no English can still qualify for help in their native language, but most are educated in English. To bridge the language gap, teachers incorporate various types of visual cues — pictures, hand gestures — into their instruction, helping students comprehend the subject matter.
It is a strategy the East San Jose district adopted several years ago to cope with a flood of immigrant students, who arrived speaking at least 30 different languages.
Lew’s students have been with her for two years, since the start of kindergarten,
and she says their progress — both in academics and language skills —
has been impressive.
“I’m amazed at the English comprehension and how much they have
caught on since last year,” Lew said. “Many of them didn’t even know English at all last year.”
It is impossible to document exactly how well Lew’s students are doing academically. She has given them a battery of school and district tests in the last month but will not get the results until June.
Still, with just three weeks left in the school year, Lew says her students are exceeding her expectations. All are reading at grade level, meaning they can understand the words, summarize and explain short passages, and distinguish between fact and fiction. More than half are tackling second-grade books and reading with expression.
“It’s not my teaching,” Lew said. “They’re motivated and ready to learn.”
It is more difficult to evaluate the students’ English comprehension.
Whaley usually tests English proficiency once a year, in the fall. So the only record available of how students have progressed over the year is an oral language evaluation Lew administered in January.
There again, Lew’s students appeared to be doing well. Of her 14 students with limited English skills, nine had enough oral comprehension, vocabulary,
pronunciation and grammar at that point to be considered fluent in English.
Just two students scored poorly on the evaluation, and both are receiving help from aides in their native language.
“I don’t know how it works, or why it works,” Lew said of the district’s English-language program. “It just works.”