The Chicago Board of Education in February 1998 adopted a bilingual policy that provides qualitative, innovative instructional programs to prepare English Language Learners (ELLs), formerly known as limited-English-proficient students, to participate in the general program where English is the language of instruction.

Prior to the adoption of this policy, thousands of students remained in transitional bilingual programs for an indefinite period of time.

This proved for many students an obstacle for future success because these programs focused entirely on native language instruction without much attention to the development of English proficiency. Many high-school students participating in these programs not only found it difficult to enter local and national universities but also difficult to secure employment due to the lack of English skills.

The current policy not only has rectified this but also has instituted measures of accountability for administrators, teachers, students and parents.

Contrary to statements in “Facing the language barrier” (Page 1 April 6) by Michael Martinez, the Chicago Public Schools’ policy does not limit participation in a transitional bilingual program to three years or limit “bilingual education to three years.” The goal of this policy, as it is in alignment to the Illinois School Code, is to prepare students for transitioning into the general program of instruction in three years, excluding preschool and kindergarten.

The key word is “transitioning,” which is based on established criteria aligned to CPS promotion guidelines that students must meet. Most students meet these criteria within their third and fourth year of participation.

When Mr. Martinez quoted that 48 percent of students were placed in regular classes after three years, he failed to mention that these students had met the established criteria. Those students who did not meet the criteria were provided extensions.

In reading Mr. Martinez’s article, one would think that transitional bilingual programs are only found in elementary schools. ELLs enter Chicago schools at different grade levels. High-school-age ELLs are enrolled in high-school transitional bilingual programs. In these programs, the core subject areas are taught in the native language. In high schools where there are low-incident languages, core subject areas are delivered through sheltered English instruction. I cannot understand what research Mr. Martinez did for this article to state, “in high schools all courses are in English.”

In this age of accountability, I understand the need for reporting test scores. But one must be clear as to which tests are given, to whom they are given and, most importantly, what do they measure. Mr. Martinez stated that limited-English students take a “state reading test.” First, the test given to ELLs by the state is not a reading test. This test is the Illinois Measure of Annual Growth in English (IMAGE), given to first-, second- and third-year bilingual students and measures English language proficiency. So when the results are interpreted, one must be knowledgeable as to the variables needed for interpretation. Numbers by themselves are misleading.

Finally, the student at Darwin Elementary mentioned in the article has a brighter future under the current transitional bilingual education policy.

He finds himself in an academic environment that is supportive and continues to show academic growth as reflected by Darwin’s Iowa Test of Basic Skills scores. The principal understands the complexity of learning a second language. She has allocated additional funds to support her ELL population and has a total of 18 bilingual teachers–four more than mandated–for her student population. She has also allocated funds to offer professional development programs to her entire staff on issues related to the education of second-language learners.

The fact is that Chicago Public Schools has been approached by the U. S. Department of Education and major national school districts to make presentations on its transitional bilingual policy at various national conferences. Others are looking to Chicago to learn how a district serves the needs of its English Language Learners and their parents.

Armando M. Almendarez, Chief officer, Office of Language, Cultural and Early Childhood Education, Chicago Public Schools

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