Cutting bilingual classes irks parents
District had switched to English immersion to help raise test scores
Ventura County Star
January 30, 2003

By Staci Haight,

Changes to Moorpark Unified School District's bilingual education program designed to help students do better on state tests are drawing the ire of the Spanish-speaking community.

About 40 parents complained at the district board meeting Tuesday that their children were losing valuable lessons in core subjects because too much time is spent on preparing them for the California Achievement Test.

"Pushing Spanish-speaking children into English-only classrooms to achieve success on a state test given only in English is not enough (of a reason to do away with bilingual education)," said parent Gabriel Medel. "The parents' goal is for their children to learn English but not at the expense of losing their academics."

Parents also complained that waivers they signed at the beginning of the school year to take their children from English-immersion programs and into bilingual education were being ignored.

The K-12 district has 7,823 students and puts the number of English-language learners at 1,346, or 17 percent.

District officials shifted from the bilingual education program used in the past to an English immersion program at the beginning of the year in response to poor test scores at Peach Hill and Campus Canyon elementary schools, which for the past two years have failed to meet state-mandated growth targets.

Schools meet their targets if all significant subgroups, such as English-language learners, demonstrate comparable improvement and if those same subgroups meet their Academic Performance Index targets, typically 80 percent of the schoolwide API growth target.

Peach Hill, which posted 661 on the 2002 API -- down from 669 in 2001 -- satisfied the first criterion but not the second. Campus Canyon, which went from 724 in 2001 to 705 in 2002, did not meet either requirement.

The move comes five years after voters statewide passed an initiative doing away with most bilingual education programs. Districts such as Fillmore, Conejo, Simi Valley, Pleasant Valley and Ojai have already done away with those programs in favor of English-only instruction.

Phyllys Lloyd, principal of San Cayetano School in Fillmore, said initial response to English immersion was cold, but results are proving that it's working.

A California English Language Development Test given last year to about 1.5 million limited-English students in California -- including 30,000 students in Ventura County -- showed encouraging results for those learning to speak, write and read English.

"The resistance we got was from staff who believed that it would not work and was unfair to children," Lloyd said. "Research has shown that children who learn English at an earlier age have an easier time than adults. .... Now I have teachers who never thought it would work saying it did."

Responding to Tuesday's parental protest, Moorpark school trustee Tom Baldwin suggested it may be appropriate to re-examine the district's decision to adopt English-only instruction. However, no official plans were made to do so.

"I'm sorry that what we've done has been disruptive," Baldwin said. " I'm not saying that what we've done is wrong, but maybe we should take a second look."