New course for English learners off to good start
Arizona Republic
Aug 29, 2008

The first review of Arizona's controversial new program to teach kids English is in, and the state says the results are impressive.

The first three districts to adopt the immersion program - Glendale Elementary, Humboldt Unified and Florence Unified - more than doubled the percentage of language learners who tested proficient in English in 2007-08 over the previous year, according to Department of Education numbers released Thursday.

Although officials say it is good news, it represents fewer than 10,000 of the state's 138,000 language learners. Several years of data are needed to determine how well the new program helps all English-language learners succeed in general classes.

The new model was introduced in some schools last year and is mandatory this year. It groups language learners by their level of proficiency and age for four hours a day. During that time, the program requires students to learn English phonics, grammar, reading and writing.

Previously, Arizona schools had little guidance. Some taught English to language learners three hours a day, while others taught it as little as 30 minutes a day. Students spent the remainder of the day in regular classes.

The state hopes the $40 million program will improve the academic success of language learners and satisfy a federal court order to put more money into the effort.

Glendale Elementary was eager to improve its record with English learners and adopted the model last school year.

The result: 960 language learners, or 21 percent, reached proficiency, up from 376 students, or 9 percent, the previous year, Superintendent Sandra Johnson said.

"What I have heard most often is the students couldn't hide among a lot of other students," Johnson said.

"The teachers knew what they needed to learn, and I think that made a big difference."

She also credits last year's success to the district's new reading program, which provided a wider variety of books and materials for students at different reading levels.

Last year, teachers also taught the language learners some science and social studies as part of their four-hour sessions, Johnson said.

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said he was happy to hear Glendale Elementary also taught specific subjects while teaching English, an approach he added to the new model. Horne said the objective is to teach academic English, not just conversational English.

He called the program "one of the most important things that has happened in Arizona education in a long time."

Teaching subject material was added to the model after critics complained it did not provide English learners an opportunity to learn science, history and other subjects. Critics also worry that students are being segregated from their English-speaking peers. Some districts say the state underfunded the new program.


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