Districts Flunking Bilingual Exams

EDUCATION: About 20,000 students are not receiving basic instruction from someone trained to teach them.

One of every six Orange County students who speak limited English are still not receiving the bilingual education they are guaranteed by law, according to the districts’ own reports to the state.

That means about 20,000 students across the county are not receiving either basic help or instruction from a teacher trained to meet their needs.

“They don’t give them the help they need, then they say bilingual education fails,” said Carmen Martinez, a parent fighting to keep bilingual education in the Orange school district.

“No child should be put in that situation. “

The reports also show that one district granted a state waiver to emphasize English in the classroom has actually increased the number of students it places in mainstream classes. Magnolia School District, which last year became the second district in the county to gain a waiver, saw roughly 9 percent of its students test as “English fluent” _ a gain of about 2 percent from the year before and above last year’s state average of 6.5 percent.

“It’s a good start,” said Santa Ana school board member Rosemarie Avila, an outspoken advocate of teaching in only English.

“It’s too early to tell. But I think over the years there will be more students speaking more English. “

Bilingual education officials also say it’s too early to tell if English programs will be more successful at helping children learn.

Westminster School District, the first in the county to receive a state waiver to emphasize English in the classroom, saw the number of children it mainstreamed decline slightly. District officials said the figure is misleading because not all students have been tested yet.

The state-mandated reports, known as R-30s, are required from every district in California by April 1.

Last year, an Orange County Register computer analysis of the reports found that 15 percent of all limited-English students were not in a special program. The number remains virtually unchanged this year, even though it’s the first time districts were able to separate out students removed from bilingual education by their parents.

“If those kids are not being served, I want to know why because I have more confidence in the administrations and the boards, and I find (the numbers) very difficult to believe,” said John Dean, county superintendent.

Statewide last year, 20 percent of limited-English students were not in special classes.

“It’s troubling,” said Norm Gold, who manages bilingual-education compliance for the state.

Estella Acosta, who oversees the county’s bilingual programs, refused to comment on any district figures until they were double-checked by the state. Districts that continually fall out of compliance after a more formal state review face having their bilingual-education funds cut off. It happened to Santa Ana Unified in the early 1980s, Gold remembered.

The R-30s contain detailed information about the primary languages spoken by students, their English proficiency and whether they are enrolled in instructional programs _ either in English or part time in their native languages _ that follow state and federal guidelines designed to guarantee them the chance at an equal education.

The school reports don’t contain enough detail to draw conclusions about the effectiveness of one district’s program over another. But they provide a glimpse into what’s going on inside the county’s divergent bilingual-education programs. And they illuminate the complexities involved in teaching and evaluating the more than 120,000 students who come to Orange County schools speaking 55 different languages.

In Huntington Beach Union High School district, for instance, 42 percent of the students who speak little English are either not in a special language program or are not being taught by teachers specially certified to teachspeakers of other languages. The percentage is a significant improvement over last year _ 59 _ but still not good enough, said the district’s bilingual-education coordinator.

“None of us are happy with us not looking absolutely wonderful,” Jan Mangels said. “We’re working on it. “

The district has the worst record in the county. Some districts reported that all their students were in appropriate classes.

In Santa Ana, Capistrano, Tustin and Saddleback Valley, about one in three students are either not in a special program or not being taught by someone with proper training.

“The board has asked us to improve that number,” said Anaida Colon-Muniz, who coordinated Santa Ana’s bilingual program. “With teachers who are well trained you have better-quality education. “

Students demonstrating full English proficiency last year varied from a low of about 2 percent in Huntington Beach Union and Newport Mesa Unified to more than 10 percent in Buena Park, Cypress Elementary and Irvine.

Los Alamitos and Laguna Beach Unified moved 12 and 17 percent of their students into proficiency. But the districts have fewer than 200 limited-English students each, making their rates less meaningful.

Many outside factors can affect a district’s success at moving students toward fluency. Parent education, income and student and teacher skills vary widely and affect how well students learn. And high transiency rates complicate the measures.

“A district that has lots of housing where people are moving in and out, might have a low redesignation rate because the kids aren’t staying in the program long enough,” Gold said. “It’s a very gross measure. “

To meet federal requirements, California suggests districts employ about one bilingual-certified teacher for every 30 non-English-speaking students. That has become a difficult goal in California, which is short roughly 20,000 properly certified teachers.

But since the state allows districts to count teachers in training, the shortage is not an excuse, Gold said.

“If the teachers are not trained it means students are not getting services,” he said.

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