Today’s classrooms are incredibly diverse. Students come from a variety of socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, bringing rich traditions and values, as well as fresh perspectives to class.
But this student population also poses a challenge for teachers as they struggle to create cohesive instruction designed to meet the needs of each and every student.
Hemet Unified School District has a long history of English language instruction for its diverse student body population. But in recent years, the city has seen a great deal of growth.
Hemet is among the top 30 fastest-growing cities in California, according to a 2012 U.S. Census Bureau report. And over the past decade Hemet Unified School District has seen about a 20 percent increase in its English learners (EL) population.
To meet the needs of this growing population, the district has rolled out a series of new programs.
“In recent years, we have implemented a whole new ELD (English Language Development) program,” said Dr. Jinane Annous, director of curriculum, instruction and EL for Hemet Unified School District. “In addition we have implemented a series of differentiated instruction training for teachers. The training will benefit all students, not just EL students, because these strategies benefit all types of students.”
The new program includes regular training for all teachers, a yearly reclassification ceremony for students graduating from the ELD program, new re-classification criteria for EL students working to graduate from the program, and an upcoming Multiliteracy Seal of recognition for graduating seniors who show fluency in multiple languages.
“Some of the most recent training took place last week with a new series that addresses the intermediate level,” Dr. Annous said. “Most of our long-term English learners will benefit from this.”
English learner (EL) students are expected to reclassify out of the ELD program to English fluency within five years. Those who remain within the program for an extended period are considered long-term English learners. A great deal of research has gone into understanding why some students are long-term learners.
Hemet Unified School District invested some of its Title III funds in addition to a grant from Riverside County Office of Education to bring EL instruction trainer Dr. Kris Nicholls to all Hemet schools for ELD training.
“Kris is teaching differentiated instruction for all teachers,” Dr. Annous said. “The instruction focuses on using graphic organizers and realia, implementing sentence frames, embedding academic English in everyday instruction and enhancing expository writing.”
Realia, which builds connections and taps into prior knowledge of students, is the use of real-world facts and materials in the classroom that relate to instruction. Examples might include news stories, photographs and video. Sentence framing teaches students a higher level of English and academic language use.
The reclassification modifications made within the district will give EL students increased opportunities to exit from the ELD program as it allows for multiple entries into reclassification during the year.
In the past, students only had one opportunity each year to test out of the program because reclassification was aligned to California State Testing. The new system also ties the reclassification process to MAP testing, or Measures of Academic Progress, which takes place three times each year.
“This gives students four chances to meet testing requirements throughout the year,” Dr. Annous said. “The reclassification process also takes into consideration CELDT (California English Language Development Test) scoring, the student’s GPA (grade point average) and teacher and parent recommendations.
“Last year, we reclassified over 300 students.”
Hemet schools have also begun hosting reclassification ceremonies for students graduating from the ELD program each year.
“We do a big ceremony at the high school,” Dr. Annous said. “We give them ribbons and recognize the students for all their work.”
Along with the reclassification changes, Hemet Unified School District also adopted a progress monitoring system that includes progress reports each trimester from every principal in the district.
“They report how many students are moving forward and how many are reclassified,” Dr. Annous said. “We monitor the reports closely so we can focus on students who aren’t moving forward and ask the hard questions, finding out why. We don’t want to wait for the end of the year.”
Last month, the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) released a report on area schools asserting some were not meeting the needs of their EL student populations. Hemet Unified was among school districts highlighted in the report.
“We looked at the numbers and they were a data entry mistake,” Dr. Annous said. “In the same year the ACLU is citing, we had a CPM perform an audit that gave us a clearance at the end, showing we were providing English services to all of our students.”
Categorical Programs Monitoring, or CPM, performs audits of the federal programs for the California Department of Education.
API (Academic Performance Index) reports for the district reflect a shrinking educational performance gap between EL students and fluent English speakers, showing these program changes have had a positive effect.
The API base for English learners was 639 in 2007, rising to 696 in 2012, a 57-point increase over the past five years.
“The number of EL are increasing but at the same time, we’re closing the achievement gap,” Dr. Annous said. “Our API for EL students increases every year.”
Students are encouraged to increase fluency in both their home languages and English. The last ELD program change – for now – will be the addition of a Multiliteracy Seal for graduating students who show fluency in multiple languages.
“We want to acknowledge these students,” Dr. Annous said. “We want to encourage them to hang onto their language, while also becoming proficient in English.”
Jennifer Dean is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.