Family advocate Tere Jurado, at the lectern, translated for Superintendent David Cash who addressed parents at Franklin Elementary School Monday night.

Paul Wellman

Family advocate Tere Jurado, at the lectern, translated for Superintendent David Cash who addressed parents at Franklin Elementary School Monday night.

English-Language Learner’ Purgatory?

Students Have Hard Time Shedding Label

It was hard to keep count of the number of times Superintendent David Cash told parents at Franklin Elementary School “We have a lot of work to do” on Monday night. He often uttered that sentiment ​— ​while delivering a “state of the schools” address ​— ​to stress the lagging outcomes for children with disabilities, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, English-language learners, and Latinos.

For instance, only 6 percent of English learners scored proficient in English Language Arts state standards exams in 2011/2012. Part of the reason for such low performance is that in the district, kids with the “English-Language Learner” label have a hard time shedding it. In a school board meeting earlier this year, Assistant Superintendent Emilio Handall suggested that principals were reluctant to reclassify their students so as not to lose state and federal funding. In speaking with his principals, Handall found that they were also concerned that students would backslide without a safety net.

The problem is that such students spend their day focusing on language skills and falling behind in their academic studies. If students are not reclassified as English proficient by the time they get to high school, they will not be able to complete the requirements necessary to apply to a four-year college. “We’ve essentially tracked that student,” said Handall. “That’s morally, professionally wrong,” he added. That fact has not been lost on parents who asked Cash several questions about reclassification. English learners are “not getting ready for college … they’re just passing their time,” said parent Cesar Trujillo, who attended Monday’s presentation. He has an 8th-grade daughter who speaks English fine but was classified as a learner because she speaks Spanish at home. She finally passed the test to be reclassified this year, but Trujillo was sweating bullets. “I bet you English-only students would have a hard time passing those tests,” he said.

At the last board meeting, Handall presented a new reclassification system where students are tested two years in a row to ensure proficiency and parents are involved in the process. He told The Santa Barbara Independent, “We only keep our training wheels on our bikes for so long.”

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