Archive for July, 2009

California, We’ve Got a Problem!

Today I provided a presentation to teachers today about the achievement gap that exists between students who have been identified as “English learners” (i.e., bilingual learners) and other groups of students. At the time we were discussing how the various demographic subgroups of students performed on the California Standards Test in 2008. Teachers were very upset to see these charts of the numbers of students who were achieving at the proficient or advanced levels of the state assessment in English Language Arts and Math:




The green line running through the chart is the achievement target that the state has set for the 2008 school year. In other words, the state requires that 34.0 percent of all students in each subgroup is at the proficient or advanced level in English Language Arts and 34.6 percent of students are proficient or advanced in math. We haven’t received the 2009 scores yet, but the achievement target was raised this year to reflect that approximately 45% of students should be at the proficient or advanced levels. 

Teachers were visibly upset that African Americans, Latinos (which includes native English-speakers as well as English learners) and the English learner population was significantly underperforming other subgroups. While they were shocked about the data, I’m actually shocked that educators are unaware of the serious problem of the achievement gap that has existed for years. 

There are a number of problems in the data though, but it still doesn’t discount that we must have a serious sense of urgency to improve the education of English learners and other underperforming subgroups. One problem with the data is that the English learner subgroup will always appear to be a perpetually underperforming subgroup because high performing students are moved out of the English learner category once they have: 1) achieved sufficient proficiency in English,  2) have been formally reclassified to fluent-English-proficient (i.e., students who have attained native-like proficiency in English), and 3) have scored at the proficient or advanced levels for two years. In other words, students are eventually exited from the English learner subgroup as they attain sufficient proficiency in English, while other new students with less proficiency in English enter the category each year. Nonetheless, we still have a serious problem because many students in the English learner subgroup  tend to plateau at the Intermediate level of proficiency and may not be formally exited out of the English learner category.

So, the next time that someone tells you that students have been doing extraordinarily well since legislation was put into place in California in order to restrict bilingual education services, you can tell them that their information is hogwash. It’s been more than ten years since Prop 227 and we still have a serious achievement gap. The fact that African Americans and English-speaking Latina/os are underperforming on state assessments lends credence to the notion that placing students exclusively in English is not the magic bullet that delusional anti-bilingual education fanatics proclaim it to be.

I’d like to tell you that we would probably see better results if students’ test scores on the Spanish version of the California Standards Test were taken into account, but I can’t. For one, California doesn’t take the scores into account. Secondly, I’ve heard through the grapevine that the future scores that were set for the Spanish assessment that may be possibly used in the future don’t miraculously paint the picture in a better light. I’ll get back to this someday in another post!

We see similar trends in the data of local school districts that is consistent with state data. Here is data from some of the largest school districts in California, in order of size (i.e., largest first):

Los Angeles Unified School District:




San Diego City Unified:



Long Beach Unified:



Fresno Unified:



California, we’ve got a SERIOUS problem.


Materials in Spanish for Bilingual Programs

booksI’ve written in the past that it is sometimes difficult to find materials in another language in many bilingual programs. If we don’t even have access to some of the core materials in Spanish (e.g. see my post here), it is sometimes even harder to find supplemental materials in Spanish. So, I figured I would jot down a couple of resources where teachers in bilingual programs (as well as teachers in Mainstream programs who would like to provide primary language support) can easily find affordable supplemental resources in Spanish.

Lectorum: The Lectorum website says, “Si es en español, ¡lo tenemos¡ If it’s in Spanish, we have it!”. And I believe it because this is my number one resource for materials in Spanish! Lectorum is a part of the Scholastic company, which provides many materials in both English and Spanish. You can find a lot of authentic literature in Spanish from various countries of Latin America on the Lectorum website. They have a great catalogue that you can request online, which they will mail to you. You can find fiction, non-fiction, authentic Spanish materials, translated materials, reference materials (i.e., dictionaries, thesaurus, etc). The catalogue is organized by themes, grade levels, authors, etc. Lectorum is a valuable resource for any bilingual teacher or parent who is looking for resources in Spanish. The materials can be ordered through Lectorum, or the catalogue can be used to identify books that can be bought elsewhere.

Scholastic News (Spanish/English): For approximately $4.00 or so, you can order 18 issues Spanish mini-newspaper for students which comes in Spanish and English. Scholastic news provides literacy connections to Science, Social Studies and current events. It’s been my experience that students really enjoy the pictures and information in the magazine. The magazine also provides home-school connections.

Weston Woods Multilingual Videos (Scholastic): Various videos in Spanish, French, Japanese and Mandarin Chinese.

Spanish Reading Comprehension Reproducibles/Blackline Masters: There are a number of Spanish reading comprehension reproducible books that can be used by teachers as blackline masters or can be used at home on an individual basis for students who are learning Spanish at home. When I was a classroom teacher, I always struggled with having enough books in Spanish for students to take home and read at home. The way that I solved the problem was that I would purchase the reading comprehension practice booklets, which have a reading passage as well as comprehension questions and often extension activities. I really enjoyed the “Read and Understand” series!

Later I will post additional resources, but I hope you find these materials useful!! If there happens to be a publisher or representative reading this post who would like to donate something that we can raffle off to readers, please leave a comment or contact me at

Categories: Bilingual Education

Bilingual Education and Teacher Expectations

Today I ran into one of my old colleagues that I used to teach with in a transitional bilingual education program. She is still a bilingual teacher, while I have since left the classroom and am an administrator. I was mentioning all of the new training that I have been conducting for teachers in bilingual programs and Dual Immersion settings, which I plan on blogging about at a later time. At one point in the conversation, I stated to her, “We’ve really got to increase the rigor of our bilingual programs. I feel that there is a deficit, remedial mindset of many teachers in bilingual programs. We have to reconceptualize that our bilingual programs are enrichment, not remedial language programs”.

She stated to me, “I’m just happy if my first grade students can write one letter of the alphabet correctly. Forget about enrichment; some of our kids can barely read or write”.

I replied, “I’ve been in kindergarten and bilingual classrooms and the students are actually writing multiple sentences and sometimes paragraphs. Of course the teachers need to scaffold and mediate such instruction for students at such a young age, but it can be done and students will rise to the occasion if teachers organize for educational success in their classroom”.

She laughed and said, “Well, you obviously have been to a different city than the city where I teach because we don’t have those types of kids”. I quickly informed her that the classrooms that I described were actually in a more poverty stricken area than where she herself worked. 

This is not the first time nor the first teacher that I have had such a conversation with. 

Folks, we’ve got a serious problem as bilingual educators if we’re happy if our students can barely write a letter. If we continue to have low expectations for the students, we will continue to have poor results. Students in bilingual programs deserve the same quality of education that we would want for our very own children.

Categories: Bilingual Education

Thoughts on Language from One of Our Founding Fathers: Benjamin Franklin

franklin1There has always been linguistic diversity in the United States. It has been estimated that approximately 250-1,000 indigenous language were spoken in North America at the time of European contact in the 15th century. German, Spanish and French flourished in colonial America through newspapers, churches, and public and private schools. 

At the beginning of the Republic, Germans were the largest non-English-speaking group in the Pennsylvania colony. Benjamin Franklin initially printed the first German books and German newspaper in the colonies during the 1730s until he was put out of business by more qualified German printers who later immigrated to the colony. Expressing alarm for the increasing political and economic power held by the Germans, Franklin wrote the following:

[W]hy should the Palantine Boors be suffered to swarm into our Settlements, and by herding together, establish their Language and Manners, to the Exclusion of ours? Why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of Aliens, who will shortly be so numerous as to Germanize us instead of our Anglyfying them, and will never adopt our Language or Customs, any more than they can acquire our Complexion. 

Franklin later changed his tune when he realized that he needed many of the Germans as political allies after the American revolution. Later in life Franklin supported Benjamin Rush in the creation of a publicly funded experiment in bilingual higher education. 

The more things change, the more things stay the same! Happy Independence Day!

Source- At War With Diversity: U.S. Language Policy in an Age of Anxiety

Categories: History

“Cuatro de Julio” Spanish Resources

362px-Fourth_of_July_fireworks_behind_the_Washington_Monument,_1986While it’s probably a bit too late for books to be delivered in time for Independence Day, I thought I would still post the following resources in the event that teachers and parents would like to further develop children’s understanding of the meaning and symbols related to Independence Day in the United States. The following books can be purchased at the fabulous independent bookstore, Powells. I think it’s wonderful that so many of the books are of the non-fiction variety, because it’s important that children are exposed to the complex text organization and syntax present in non-fiction texts at a very early age. Enjoy:

Fourth of July (General):

Cuatro de Julio

El Día de Independencia 

Celebra el Cuatro de Julio con Campeón, El Glotón

The Pledge of Allegiance

Juramento de Lealtad

The U.S. Flag

La Bandera que Amamos

La Bandera Estadounidense

Betsy Ross: Creadora de la Bandera Estadounidense

Categories: Education

Initial Identification and Assessment of Bilingual Learners

boytakingtestI often get questions from parents and teachers about the process as to how students are first identified as an “English Learner”. Therefore, I’d like to clear up some of the misunderstandings that exist regarding this topic. I’m looking at this from a California perspective, but since the process is governed by federal law it will also be similar in other states.

When parents first enroll their children in a public school, they are given an enrollment packet which includes a questionnaire containing questions about the language(s) that the student speaks. In California and other states this questionnaire is often called a “home language survey”. The survey asks various questions about language development such as:

  • Which language did your child learn when he/she first began to talk?
  • Which language does your child most frequently speak at home?
  • Which language do you (the parents or guardians) most frequently use when speaking with your child?
  • Which language is most often spoken by adults in the home? (parents, guardians, grandparents, or any other adults)

If a parent identifies a language other than English on one of the questions, the child is identified as an “English learner”. California law requires that students who have been identified as an English learner are to be administered an assessment of English within 30 days as well as an assessment of their primary language within 90 days. The English proficiency test used in the state of California is the California English Language Development Test (CELDT).  Based on the English assessment results, the student may remain identified as an English learner or they may be classified as an I-FEP,  a student who has been initially identified as Fluent-English-Proficient. (I’ll touch bases in another post as to my personal views about how being identified as I-FEP at too early an age may be problematic for some students in their future education).

What is important to note is that the home language survey or the process of being identified as an “English Learner” DOES NOT automatically place students in a bilingual or ESL classroom. The home language survey is merely an instrument that assists with the identification of students as English learners in order for students to receive appropriate educational services. Upon enrollment, California education code requires that parents are provided a full consultation of the educational programs in the school district. Based on the English and primary language assessment results, parents may be given a recommendation as to which program might be educationally appropriate for the child, but parents have the final choice as to which program their child is enrolled. Parents who have children identified as an English learner (i.e., a student who speaks more than one language) may choose to have their children placed in an English classroom or a bilingual classroom (if the school district offers such a program).

Why is the home language survey important?

The home language survey is important because it identifies which students are classified as English learners and may possibly require additional language assistance in the future. Once again, the home language survey does NOT automatically trigger placement in an ESL or bilingual classroom. Additional federal and state funds are also disseminated to school based on the number of students who have been formally classified as English learners. Such funds can be used to purchase materials, software and other supplemental resources in order to assist students with language development.

As a parent, should you answer “English” on all of the questions, even if your child is bilingual?

As a parent you will need to decide whether or not you will accurately fill out the home language survey. Many parents are worried that by filling out the home language survey card then their child will be placed in a low-level ESL program. However, this is far from the truth. As a reminder, the home language survey merely identifies the child as a potential English learner. Other parents are opposed to their child being given an assessment of English and their primary language. You as a parent will need to decide what is best for your child.

What’s my personal opinion? I believe that you should accurately fill out the home language survey and allow your child to be assessed regarding their first and second language development. Tests are insignificant in my world, but at least they give us some sort of information regarding whether the student is dominant in one language or is a balanced bilingual when they first enter school. If your child ever does require additional assistance, the initial assessment results provide educators with information regarding their language development. Some parents are actually surprised because they thought that their child was less dominant in a certain language, yet the assessment results showed a different story. Sometimes we never know what children are capable of in either language until they are given proficiency assessments in both languages!!

About the Author: Melanie McGrath is a bilingual education fanatic. She passionately thinks, lives and dreams about multilingual education every waking and sleeping moment of her life. Seriously. Melanie is an administrator of bilingual education programs, and considers herself to be an advocate for students, parents, teachers, and others in the struggle for quality bilingual education programs.  As founder of Multilingual Mania, she’s doing all that she can to help create a multilingual and non-racist society one day at a time.

Categories: Bilingual Education

The Importance of Being Bilingual

You just never know when being bilingual is going to save your, um…behind. 

Categories: Bilingualism