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Lack of English proficiency draws down reading, writing percentages

Dennis Webb

A growing Latino population is one of several mitigating circumstances adding to the challenge area school districts face in showing proficiency in academic testing.

For example, Esma Lewis Elementary School in Rifle pulled down the Re-2 School District average in several categories of the latest Colorado Student Assessment Program test results. These included third-grade writing, in which it showed 34 percent proficiency compared to 51 percent statewide, and fourth-grade writing, in which it also showed 34 percent proficiency, compared to 50 percent statewide.

The district as a whole was 40 percent proficient in third-grade writing, and 41 percent in fourth-grade writing.

The situation at Esma Lewis points to special challenges districts can face. Esma Lewis has a higher percentage than other Re-2 elementary schools of English-as-a-second-language students, and those on free and reduced-priced lunches, and its mobility rate – the percentage of students coming in and out of the school from year to year – also is higher.

The language barrier created in the case of many Latino students can be a big one.

“There’s certainly a learning gap, there’s no question about it, and it shows up across the board,” said Re-2 Assistant Superintendent Ava Lanes.

She said the state has asked districts to pay attention to these gaps and implement programs to close them.

Lanes said she doesn’t view the issues facing Esma Lewis as excuses, but sees them as challenges that she thinks the district can meet.

She also hesitates to compare schools against each other. She’s more interested in seeing what improvements schools can achieve in test scores.

“We’re going to be pleased with any score as long as they make that steady growth, no matter where they started,” she said.

If they don’t improve, the district will re-examine what they are doing, she said.

The Latino challenge is great enough in the Re-1 School District that it specifically breaks down test results between Latino and Anglo students to indicate how overall school scores are affected.

“When you look at the breakdown you can see what an impact that has on the scores,” Re-1 Assistant Superintendent Judy Haptonstall said of the language barrier. “When kids come to you and they don’t speak any English it takes a little time to learn.”

Re-1 results show several areas of improvement among Latino students. Still, Carbondale Elementary School’s relatively low results in several categories are due in big part to the challenge of teaching Latinos whose English is poor, Haptonstall said. For example, its 28 percent proficiency in fourth-grade writing breaks down to be 50 percent proficiency among Anglos, but just 9 percent proficiency among Latinos.

She said the goal of the broken-down scores being made available is to assure Anglo parents that their kids are doing better than overall school scores might suggest.

She said CES also suffers from a mobility rate of more than 40 percent.

“It doesn’t help when you have kids moving in and out like that,” she said.


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