Program can HELP Latinos learn the language of mathematics |

Program can HELP Latinos learn the language of mathematics

Suzie C. Romig
Special to the Post Independent

Imagine just beginning to grasp English as your second language and then being asked to prove your proficiency in science and math on daunting state tests written in English.

On the test, you come across words such as “simplify the equation” or “exponent.”

For an English learner, the phrases may sound familiar, but trying to make sense of these words and then calculate the mathematical answer could be almost impossible.

That’s the problem thousands of Colorado students face each year when they are tested through the Colorado State Assessment Program.

According to CSAP results, only 10 percent of ninth-grade and 5 percent of 10th-grade Latinos in the state are classified as proficient in math. Educators know language often is the barrier.

To address the problem, Digital Directions International of Carbondale and Boulder, in conjunction with the Roaring Fork School District, has created a new software program.

The prototype Help with English Language Proficiency (HELP) program earned strong marks when it was tested by Colorado ninth-graders last fall.

“We polled our English-language-learner students after they used the HELP Program, and more than 90 percent said they really liked it and would use it to learn math terms,” noted Diana Obstfeld, a teacher at Ranum High School in Westminster. “The students especially liked the colors, music, games and the ease of moving around the program.”

Key concepts and vocabulary taught right away

The program teaches the meaning of key concepts and associated vocabulary that students need to succeed in math class and on assessments.

In English as a second language programs and classrooms, students are taught to read, write and speak English, but specialized or technical language often comes later.

Development of the HELP Program was made possible through a public-private partnership between Digital Directions and the Roaring Fork School District, with major contributions from the Colorado Department of Education, Aspen Valley Community Foundation, Bacon Family Foundation in Grand Junction, George Stranahan and the GSS Endowment and the Aspen School District.

“The HELP initiative arose out of a serious and pressing need. The number of non-English-speakers grows each year, and our resources are increasingly stretched,” noted Roaring Fork superintendent Fred Wall.

“We have taken huge strides in effectively teaching reading and writing to English language learners, but it remains particularly difficult for us to effectively teach core academic subjects, such as math, to English-language learners.

“There were no existing programs or curriculums that directly address this problem, so in December 2002, we decided to partner with Digital Directions to develop our own program to help our students,” Wall said.

Supporters say HELP is focused on assisting students get past the language barrier so they can focus on mathematical skills and overall student achievement.

Developed in cooperation with students, the program should be ready for use by the general population of Colorado ninth-graders by next school year and by other grades in upcoming years.

Support is widespread and growing

The program has the support of a growing number of Colorado administrators, educators and legislators, including Colorado Attorney General Ken Salazar.

Colorado Department of Education Commissioner William J. Moloney said, “The reason (HELP) is of interest to the CDE is that it addresses a neglected but vital area.

“We are especially interested in HELP’s ability to create an online, multi-sensory program, which is fully aligned to Colorado math standards, benchmarks and assessments. We believe this program will enable schools to better meet the needs of the English-language-learner population and the requirements of the No Child Left Behind mandate.”

“HELP will be initially tested in Colorado, but the intent is to build a national program,” Moloney noted. “HELP will be modified to meet the needs of English-language learners across the nation, currently approaching 5 million students and expected to double within seven years.”

Digital Directions is an educational technology company co-owned by Rocky Mountain PBS.

The Colorado company, led by CEO John Ramo of Carbondale, develops and distributes interactive broadband and Internet courses to the lifelong learner.

Digital Directions executive Barbara Freeman, also from Carbondale, directs development of the HELP Program.

Information: Barbara Freeman, 704-1017 or; John Ramo, 704-1465; and click on the helping hand logo.

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