Monday, June 4, 2012

ELL students shafted in our schools

The agenda for tonight's school committee meeting includes a presentation on ELL sheltered immersion by the assistant superintendent. Since ELL students will be discussed, let's review what the DESE said about our English language learners and the sheltered immersion program.

On English Language Arts:
"the biggest gaps (-12.7 in both cases) were for the limited English proficient (LEP) and formerly limited English proficient (FLEP) subgroups. Limited English proficient students, also known as English language learners (ELLs), demonstrated the lowest CPI of any of these subgroups at 47.1 points; the special education subgroup demonstrated the next lowest CPI at 62.8 points."
And on math:
"The largest differences in CPIs are shown in the -17.9 point differential for formerly limited English proficient (FLEP) students and  -14.8 point differential for limited English proficient (LEP) students, also known as English language learners (ELLs). The ELL subgroup had  the lowest CPI of any of these subgroups at 41.4 points, and the special education subgroup the next lowest at 50.1 points."
It's important to note that these comparisons are not our ELL students, against the rest of our students. They are our ELL students, against the ELL students in the rest of the state, including several districts that look like ours. We should, because of our large ELL population, be better at instructing these students than many other cities and towns, but apparently we're worse.

More DESE:
"In summary, seven of these eight district subgroups demonstrated lower performance than the state subgroup in both ELA and mathematics, as measured by CPI. Considering both performance and growth, the subgroups that raise the most concern are English language learners and students who were formerly English language learners."
Perhaps most disturbing, was the attitude displayed to DESE by some of our educators.
"According to staff interviewed, there is some latent resentment about current students being different from what Salem students were historically, and some staff have low expectations for students, especially ELLs, while other staff are “very committed.” The ownership of all students in the district was said to be “very uneven.” 
They continue:

At the time of the review, there was no administrator with a specialty in ELL in charge of the
ELL program, which includes 11.2 percent of Salem students.  Rather, two full-time teachers
shared the coordination duties K-12. In 2010 the achievement of English language learners
(ELLs), the lowest-performing subgroup, was 12.7 CPI points lower in ELA than state ELLs’
and 14.8 CPI points lower in math (see Tables 2 and 3 in the Student Performance section
above). These were the largest gaps with state counterparts for any subgroup except for the
formerly ELL subgroup.

On the subject of math:
Several teachers in two different focus groups noted that  ELL students have difficulty with
Everyday Math and  Connected Math (textbooks) because these programs have so much verbal content. Likewise, an administrator said in an interview that Everyday Math is “embedded in language,” which results in more  challenges to ELL students. When asked if the district was planning to review the selection of this program, since the number of students whose first language is not English (FLNE students) and ELL students in the district is substantial, and has been during the seven years since its adoption, the teachers said that they did not know of any such plan but that they were sure that the district would listen to them. There is, however, research that indicates that mathematics programs that require a high degree of literacy can actually help students increase verbal as well as mathematical skills—if they are taught well. 
Their overall conclusion on curriculum includes the following:

Salem’s curriculum does not  serve the needs of its diverse student population, particularly since there is minimal evidence of curriculum and models of instruction that are directed toward the subgroups  that are most in need, i.e., ELL students  and students receiving special education services

Let's see if that is addressed tonight, or if we continue talking about cosmetic bullshit like uniforms and calendars.

Lest you think I'm too harsh on the school committee, and I am harsh, read this.

The Salem Public Schools do not have the administrative capacity to effectively guide, supervise, and evaluate the staff to implement reform and improvement initiatives. There is too little communication between the central office and principals, principals reported having too little time to supervise teachers, and the numerous paraprofessionals are not evaluated.
The school committee reported that their goals for the superintendent did not include a goal or goals that held him accountable for student achievement. Interviews with central office leaders indicated hesitancy at holding principals accountable for student achievement. In turn, principals reported that the difficult conversations about student achievement were not part of the discussions in their supervision and evaluation of teachers.

Let me repeat that key finding. "The school committee reported that their goals for the superintendent did not include a goal or goals that held him accountable for student achievement."

What else is there? Show me a school system where students don't achieve, and I'll show you one where there is no demand that they achieve. That's Salem, folks. Heck, here, apparently many of our "educators" expect them to fail. How much effort do you think that those particular teachers are giving?

The agenda item for tonight is a presentation on sheltered immersion. So what did the DESE say about that?

Review team members inquired  in focus groups  about the level of professional development
available to fulfill some of the ongoing curricular and instructional needs in the district. Some teachers said, and others agreed, that there was training for new programs, such as Superkids and FASTT Math. Other staff members stated that there was very little training at that time in sheltered English immersion (SEI) to support teachers working with ELL students, and that in many cases, even when initial training was given, there had been little if any follow-up support. District staff members lack cohesive strategies for teaching regular education as well as ELL and special education students beyond flexible grouping, regrouping, and pull-out in small groups. One administrator said that the district lacks  “cognitive clarity,” meaning knowing what to do and why.
They later added this:
Classroom observations conducted by review team members revealed minimal use of sheltered
English immersion (SEI) strategies to support ELL and other students’ learning. The use of a
literacy-based elementary mathematics program without adequate and consistent classroom
supports and intervention procedures means that many students may not be able to realize their
potential to learn mathematics and may not be able to accurately demonstrate what they know,
can do, and understand in mathematics. 
And then this:
However, other opportunities to seek and use meaningful data are missed. For example, principals do not conduct systematic walkthroughs to gather information, either to identify strengths and weaknesses in teaching and learning or to monitor what are said to be district instructional priorities such as differentiated instruction or sheltered English immersion (SEI) strategies. As a result, though they are said to be priorities, these strategies were infrequently observed at high levels of practice during classroom observations by review team members.                                  

But really, the crux of our problems may have been captured in the section on student support.

In interviews, district administrators and school staff could not clearly articulate what the district
was doing in relation to the low performance of ELLs and students receiving special education
services. They did make reference to programs, but it was unclear how these programs were
working together to improve student performance. There appeared to be a prevailing assumption that the analysis of MCAS scores would lead to improvements in subgroups.  Review team members were told in interviews that teachers were “differentiating instruction” but interviewees could not explain how this approach was specifically addressing the needs of diverse learners. Interviewees also noted that capacity to differentiate instruction was weak in the district. Classroom observations revealed little evidence of differentiation or sheltered English immersion (SEI) instruction.
Another theme that emerged from interviews with district administrators and school staff was
that some appeared to be resigned to the school district not having the capacity to address the
problems of ELLs and their families and other families. Many interviewees attributed lagging
test scores to the effects of limited English proficiency, poverty and its accompanying problems,
and mobility and attendance issues. According to some interviewees, the community has found it difficult to adjust to its changing population, particularly the increase in residents who speak
other languages; cultural issues are not addressed in the schools; and some administrators and
staff do not have high expectations for students, especially ELLs. One effect of a lack of a clear
vision in how to serve diverse students and their families is the eroding belief and conviction
among some school staff that the district can successfully address the academic, emotional, and
social needs of all students. This effect was apparent in interviews with school staff who
appeared overwhelmed with the needs of students.  Unless a vision of how to serve diverse
students and their families is developed and the resignation of staff who do not now see a way to improve these students’ achievement is addressed, it will be difficult to bring about the

Our educators don't believe our kids can succeed, and they don't even know what we're doing to try to help them. Who did they interview? Dr. Walsh?

The DESE made several recommendations in their report. They included these around student support:

Student Support
9. The district should evaluate its existing support programs and services and use those evaluations to address supports for students in its new strategic plan, including supports for English language learners, students receiving special education services, and students from diverse backgrounds. It should consider whether strategies related to school climate and family involvement should be included.
10. The district should consider a systemwide focus on a “full service school model” as a way to support the learning and achievement of diverse learners, especially ELLs, and to bolster the impact of promising programs already operating in the district.
11. The district’s new professional development plan should prioritize training in the instructional models (Like SEI) currently in use and the district should provide  follow-up support to ensure that practices are institutionalized.
In short. We're failing our ELL students through a lack of organization, effort, knowledge, and caring (by some). DESE has instructed us on how to address some of those failings. It's results from those recommendations, as well as several others, that I'll be looking for tonight. Has training improved and become systemic? What new training programs are in place? What are the chances that I see any? Don't forget to tune in, this one is live on Channel 15, at 7:30.


  1. you mean spreading all the ELL students around the city in the hopes of hiding our short comings won't fix the problem? I really think they were counting on that.

  2. From the meeting the other night, I think they still plan on spreading them around don't they? But then training all teachers on how to teach kids that don't know English. Why don't they direct all Spanish ELL elementary school age kids (which I think was over 90% of the kids) to Bowditch? they could then focus all their resources in one place, and the kids would be learning something in their native language everyday.

    I had to chuckle that they hired a new ELL Director that speaks 6 (or 7?) languages, but not Spanish.

    Speaking of Bowditch, the state sent me the Salem Schools 2010-2011 end of year Financial report last week, which included schedule 3 (breakdown by School). Bowditch was given $2.34 million for instructional services (teachers, books, etc) vs $2.28 million for Saltonstall. Pretty close right? Yes, except Bowditch had 126 more kids than Saltonstall.


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