Efforts to teach English paying off
The Desert Sun
February 9, 2005

Toshi Maeda

Palm Springs, CA

Students who are working to learn English - along with reading, writing and arithmetic - in the Coachella Valley public schools are making progress, according to statewide test results released Tuesday.

An increased number of English-language learners are improving their writing and expanding vocabulary rather than just speaking and listening, the study has found.

The results of the 2004 California English Language Development Test, which was taken by more than 1.3 million children whose native language is not English, showed that all three school districts in the Coachella Valley saw their results improve compared to the previous year.

"We're very pleased with the improvement in test scores," said Neil Lingle, president of the Desert Sands Unified School District board of education. "It certainly reflects that (teaching English to non-English speaking children) is one of our top priorities."

The percentage of test-takers who were classified into satisfactory levels - "advanced" or "early advanced" - in the Desert Sands Unified School District increased to 44 percent from 42 percent in 2003.

In Palm Springs Unified School District, the mark rose to 41 percent from the previous 37 percent, while the Coachella Valley Unified School District saw its number slightly increasing to 33percent from 32 percent.

Being classified into "advanced" and "early advanced" means that the student no longer needs the assistance of a bilingual teacher in the classroom and is starting to focus on writing and reading instead of speaking and listening, school officials said.

Statewide, 47 percent of the test takers reached those levels of proficiency - a 4 percent increase from the year before.

Given the large concentration of Latino children in the Coachella Valley who came to the United States only recently, local officials and educators praise the children and themselves for the test results.

At Van Buren Elementary School in Indio, 97 percent of the students took the English language test, known as CELDT, last year. Many of the students came from Mexico to the United States within the last few years with their parents, who are mostly farm workers and speak only Spanish, said Principal Eileen Nurani.

Some 26 percent of the students reached satisfactory levels in the 2004 test, while 22 percent of them reached the same levels the year before.

"Vocabulary development, reading comprehension and writing - these are the biggest challenges for them," said Nurani, whose school is located close to a migrant camp.

In a bid to help the children who are learning English as a second language expand their knowledge and use of words, Nurani's school has introduced a program called "The Daily Vocabulary."

The program requires each homeroom teacher to teach at least one word or expression each day with "visuals and motions," Nurani said.

"They (children who don't speak English at home) struggle with vocabulary," she said. "They don't hear it in their environment."

The results this year were encouraging, Nurani said, adding, however, that "we are hoping to see more.

School officials say the parents of the students who took the test will receive the individual test results by mail.

The test is given annually to school children whose primary language isn't English. It measures listening, speaking, reading and writing skills.

California has the greatest number of students whose primary language isn't English, education officials said.