State curriculum to aid English learners

The lesson plan targets mastery of the language and meeting standards for academic content.

The state Board of Education today is expected to adopt a reading and language-arts curriculum that for the first time will include instruction for California’s 1.5 million students who are learning English.

In addition to meeting academic content standards set by the state, the new curriculum will be the first in the country to incorporate and address the needs of students learning English, said John Mockler, the board’s executive director.

It will allow students to simultaneously work toward English proficiency as well as mastery of the state’s rigorous standards, which are a set body of knowledge that all students are supposed to know, Mockler said.

Until now, teachers have used a separate curriculum for English language development, one that wasn’t aligned to state academic standards. In doing so, the students fell further behind their peers, Mockler said.

The new instructional materials will allow teachers to combine instruction in English-language development as well as reading and language arts.

Educators say that the new textbooks can potentially make it easier for teachers to teach and help students master content standards more quickly.

However, without a serious commitment to teacher training, the curriculum itself won’t solve all problems, said John Becker, principal of Oak Ridge Elementary School in Sacramento. There, 70 percent of students lack English-language mastery.

“It’s a constant battle to learn how to teach kids,” he said. “It will still take very intensive training and the opportunity to fully implement the programs before we know if it will work.”

Critics charge that the new curriculum doesn’t do nearly enough for English learners because it’s aligned to the state’s language-arts standards rather than its language-development standards.

“It does not address their language needs,” said Maria S. Quezada, executive director of the California Association for Bilingual Educators. “You cannot take the English-language arts standards and use that as a criteria for kids who don’t know English. It’s not going to work.”

Mockler said that language-development standards and language-arts standards are identical for students in kindergarten through third grades, which makes Quezada’s claims “nonsense.”

And the new curriculum includes special intervention programs for fourth- through eighth-graders who are struggling to learn English.

All textbook publishers who submitted their work were required to include English-language development instruction.

The board previously has adopted math, history and science curricula aligned to state standards. The reading and language-arts curricula, aligned to standards adopted in 1997, are the last and “probably most important piece of the puzzle,” Mockler said, because the other curricula presume students have a knowledge of English.

Continuity will be key in helping kids master English, said Kathi Cooper, Sacramento City Unified School District’s associate superintendent for instruction and learning. Cooper also helped review the textbooks submitted to the state board.

“English-language development builds vocabulary and concept knowledge,” said Cooper. “Now, it will be related to the English-language arts instruction that the whole group is receiving. One reinforces the other.”

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The Bee’s Erika Chavez can be reached at (916) 321-1083 or [email protected]

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