D203 board members question dual language program’s results
By Hank Beckman For The Sun January 12, 2013 9:20PM
Updated: February 14, 2013 6:35AM
Naperville School District 203 initiated a dual language program for students beginning in kindergarten in 2008, and school board members are starting to question its effectiveness.
District 203 offers opportunities to participate in the Dual Language program at Beebe, Elmwood, Mill Street, Maplebrook and Steeple Run elementary schools. Classrooms in the Dual Language program are comprised of approximately half of the students coming from a Spanish-first home and the other half of the students coming from an English-first home.
Once the students begin in the Dual Language program, they continue to move through grade levels with the same group of students through fifth grade.
However, recent data show a drop off in the reading test scores of Limited English Proficiency students (LEP), leaving the students at a disadvantage compared to their peers not in the program.
“The only thing that calms me a little bit is the small sample size,” Board of Education President Mike Jaensch said after a recent staff presentation to the full board by Jennifer Hester, associate superintendent for Learning Services; Tim Wierenga, assistant superintendent for Teaching and Learning; and Julie Knight, Dual Language Program coordinator.
The data reflects results for fourth-graders on the 2012 Illinois State Achievement Tests.
Reading scores fell off for LEP students, with 23 students failing to meet or exceed expectations of reading at their grade level, as opposed to only 16 the year before when they tested in third grade.
Jaensch further questioned district staff’s position that it would take five to seven years for students from non-English dominant families to become proficient in English.
“I just don’t buy that,” he said. “It’s pretty disturbing to me.”
District 203’s dual language program has the goal of creating students proficient in both English and Spanish. Starting in kindergarten, students are taught at a ratio of 80 percent Spanish against 20 percent English.
Each year calls for an incremental increase in the amount of English instruction, until students are taught half the time in each language.
The small sample size Jaensch alluded to results from only Beebe and Maplebrook having participated in the program from the beginning.
With only 43 LEP students counted in the data, even a small shift in students not meeting grade-level expectations can make a significant difference in the overall percentage.
But with the stated goal of the program to increase student literacy from both Spanish and English dominant families — and non-LEP students actually showing some improvement over the previous year — board members were concerned about any slippage in test results.
Board member Dave Weeks noted the deterioration in scores between the third and fourth grade, and board member Susan Crotty asked if staff was sure that the current approach was the best way for students to learn.
“I think the answer to that question is yes, if the question is what is the best way to provide bilingual education,” Hester said.
Hester also reminded the board that state law mandates that school districts provide bilingual education, a reference to the 2010 law that requires programs if there are a certain number of non-English speaking students in a district.
Knight said there “was a lot of research to support it being the best” way to provide bilingual education.
Jaensch said he had seen the research, but still seemed doubtful of the approach.
“I remember that (the research),” he said. “But it’s not what I’m seeing.”
The board will take up the matter again in February.