How "Smart Data" Helps English Learners: With New Methods of Collecting and Evaluating Data, Tracking Student Progress and Finding Effective Instructional Strategies Is Faster and Easier

Article excerpt

Every school district is judged on its success according to today's standardized tests, in the midst of this, and despite statewide initiatives such as California's Proposition 227 for English immersion, disagreements continue regarding the best methods for teaching English learners. What teachers and administrators need is a way to work together to track the progress of each student and to adjust strategies accordingly.

Does the No Child Left Behind Act just add more complications to this equation? Each grade from 3 to 8 requires an annual assessment as part of Title 1 funding, and teachers are often unsure how they'll rate when that annual assessment comes around--especially in an English learner environment.

However, with new methods of collecting and evaluating data, several assessment measures can be managed. And what was once a very complicated scenario becomes a simplified one in which decisions are much easier to come by. A side benefit of working with this "smart data" is the opportunities that open up for involving parents.

English language learners

In the 2000-2001 school year, there were 1.5 million English language learners in California public schools. Seventy percent of-those students were in grades K-6. Nationwide, NCLB provided $665 million in 2004 to help ELL students acquire English language skills. This is a 49 percent increase over 2001, according to the U.S. Dept. of Education, $68 million of which is set aside to prepare teachers for teaching English learners.

The structured immersion approach, in addition to being the chosen method of California's Proposition 227, is being financed by the NCLB Act. Structured immersion means that instruction is in the language being learned (English, in our case), in a self-contained classroom. An alternative program would be bilingual education, in which the student is taught various subjects in the native language, with time set aside for learning English.

All schools must now have an evaluation plan for their English Language Development program. The evaluation plan must include:

* The progress of children in attaining English proficiency;

* Student attainment of the state's content and achievement standards; and

* Progress in meeting accountability requirements.

Tracking progress

With multiple teaching styles, what's the ideal way to track progress? It is impossible to raise the English proficiency of a student new to the country from beginning status to proficient within the one-year time frame set forth by NCLB and Proposition 227. Language acquisition research shows this effort takes five to seven years. But understanding progress by individual standards is the only way to prove or disprove the time frame's attainability for an individual school. Even within the immersion style of teaching, there are unique attributes of individual teachers. Fortunately, the tracking itself can improve the instruction path taken for each individual student.

Today at the Lennox School District in Los Angeles County, for example, a teacher doesn't need to wait for a report from the administrator to determine which 10 kids are academically at risk. It wasn't long ago that a teacher needed to go to the office and find the cumulative records, take out the paper copies of test data and locate the patterns by looking at various reports. Today, a teacher can look up this information on his or her students via the password-protected PowerSchool site. By removing that administrative lag time, teachers can take more immediate action where they see a need.

Now, comparisons of the student's year-to-year progress can be made quickly and efficiently, and a better picture emerges of what is working and what isn't for the student.

In a district of 97 percent Latino students, we at Lennox must pay special attention to our ability to ready students for life in an English-speaking world. …