Teaching flaws noted all over district

Report Newport-Mesa Unified needs better instruction of English learners, state finds.

Three weeks after federal officials said a Costa Mesa middle school was inadequately teaching students who are not fluent in English, state monitors have found similar flaws throughout the district and are urging officials to correct them as soon as possible.

The report, released Tuesday, is part of a court-ordered state campaign to better monitor how English learners are taught, especially since their ranks have swelled in California. One in four of the state’s 6 million students is not fluent in English; 30 percent of Orange County students are learning English.

They’re important findings,” said Lauri Burnham, manager of the monitoring unit in the state Department of Education. My sense is the district is aware of these and has been working on improving services already.” Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials say they are embracing the changes. They are testing students, training teachers and writing a master plan” to guide English instruction by June. Test scores, they point out, rose at many schools last year, enough to net many cash awards from the state.

We want to do the very best we can for kids,” said Susan Despenas,
assistant superintendent for elementary education. We’ll do everything that we have to to make it right.”

Still, the state findings are sobering, especially since state and federal laws have required for years that students receive adequate instruction.
State education monitors vis ited six Newport-Mesa schools in September and discovered many violations, including teachers who were unfamiliar with the curriculum, English learners in the wrong classes, inadequate staff development, and a lack of district oversight to make sure programs work.

Such flaws could be damaging to students and could prevent them from eventually catching up with their peers and becoming fluent in English,
state officials said.

Newport-Mesa serves 6,100 English learners, mostly Spanish speakers, nearly 30 percent of the enrollment.

State findings include:

Some students who are fluent in English still are classified as English learners, and vice versa.

English-language instruction was found lacking at schools, except for Whittier, Rea and Wilson elementary schools, the report said. Students are supposed to receive extra help, such as visual aids and hands-on lessons, to make sure that they understand the teacher, state officials said.

The district has not implemented a plan to make sure that schools help English learners catch up to others at their grade level before such deficits become irreparable.”

Schools need to fully establish parent-advisory committees for English learners. District officials said such committees already have been meeting this year.

Parents are not adequately informed that they can put their children in an alternative program, such as bilingual education. Despenas said the district would provide such instruction, but said parents have not requested it.

Newport-Mesa Unified is among 56 districts statewide that have come under state scrutiny in recent months, including Santa Ana Unified, partly because they have faced complaints about instruction in the past.

Three weeks ago, the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights,
acting on a parent complaint, found that TeWinkle Middle School in Costa Mesa did not adequately teach English learners.

District officials said they have been buffeted in the past by a series of changes, including the doubling of the number of English learners since 1990 and a series of state reforms, from high- stakes testing to smaller class sizes.

The district must respond to the findings in 45 days, and state officials will return to monitor them until they fully comply with the law, which could take a year. If the district fails, it risks losing state funding,
officials said.

For this report, state monitors visited six schools, including Whittier,
Rea, Sonora and Wilson elementary schools, TeWinkle Middle School and Estancia High School.

Mirna Burciaga, the parent who filed the TeWinkle complaint, said she was encouraged by the district’s efforts.

I think they’re trying to make the changes,” Burciaga said. I’d like to feel sure that they’re not going to be short-term only.”

Contact Sacchetti at (714) 445-6678 or msacchetti@ocregister.com

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