The 2001 Illinois School Report landed in school districts’ mailboxes recently with a dizzying amount of information.
As they always have, these booklets came with scores from the Illinois Standards Achievement Test, as well as data on the district’s finances, students and teachers.
New this year, however, were score-by-score breakdowns based on ethnicity, socio-economic background and gender.
In Community Unit District 300, the dissection of scores among limited-English-proficient students not only has sparked interest, but action. Craig Sunstedt, a central office administrator who is responsible for making heads or tails of the school report card, said the information led district officials to make a rather radical conclusion.
“The group we need to look at first is the LEP (limited-English- proficiency) kids,” he said. “I’m not so sure low-income is as huge a factor as (language acquirement.)
State education officials have long pointed to low-income backgrounds as the greatest and only clear indicator of student achievement, calling other demographics murky and nebulous.
But in a district that is used to beating the state average, Sunstedt said something is clearly wrong when their limited-English students don’t do the same.
“The state numbers for LEP students aren’t good, and ours are even worse,” Sunstedt said. “So we have plenty to explore.”
According to the school report card – which relies on last year’s data collection – 18 percent of District 300’s then 16,116 students have a limited grasp on the English language.
Sunstedt said it’s the district’s largest categorized group.
Carpentersville Middle School Principal Steve Renne said the breakdown analysis not only provided the district with a clearer and broader picture, but will likely serve as a springboard.
“This will be the driving force behind bilingual reforms,” he said.
Some of that is already underway, Sunstedt said.
“We’ve looked at tightening up our definitions and program descriptions,” Sunstedt said. “We need to clearly define what is expected of a child at a certain level and what type of instruction they should receive.”
One of the faults of the current system, Renne said, is that the four schools with bilingual programs operate pretty much independently.
“You have four different schools operating four different programs, all feeding into CMS,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense.”
James Tohme, the principal at Golfview Elementary School – which boasts the highest percentage of bilingual students in the district – said District 300 needs to develop clear standards not only for students in the bilingual program, but for those wanting to enter or leave it.
“I think there needs to be an assessment and I’m not talking about the (Illinois Measure of Annual Growth In English) test or the ISAT,” he said. “I’m talking about entering and exiting criteria, which can be pretty firm for all students.”
One of the hardest things in a bilingual program is determining when that student should transition into regular education, Sunstedt said, and it was an equally difficult topic to get school officials to broach.
Tohme did say, however, that just as there needs to be consistency, there needs to be flexibility.
“Every kid is different, so the acquisition process can take longer for some kids than others,” Tohme said.
Hypothetically, two migrant students from Mexico of the same age and grade could enroll in the school’s bilingual program, he said.
“But one, because they’ve had a consistent school experience, never lived in poverty and parents who are educated beyond high school, could have a better shot at learning English than a student from a rural part of Mexico, where school may not have been as high a priority.”
All of these things and more will be taken into consideration as the district moves through the process of reform, Sunstedt said.
“We want each one of our demographic groups to outperform the state,” he said. “Bilingual education can’t be a remediation program, but an acceleration program.