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Another View

Bridging language gap will boost test scores

By: Michele Schuetz, Auburn Union School District Superintendent
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Regarding the editorial (Our View, Journal, Aug. 27) bridging language will indeed improve test scores. I would like to provide our community with a summary of what is happening at Rock Creek and Auburn Union schools to improve the academic performance of English learners. In 2004 Rock Creek’s overall API (Academic Performance Index) was 672. That score has jumped to 741 in 2008. Even more noteworthy, the sub group of English learners grew from a 2007 API score of 668 to 725 in 2008. This is a significant milestone given the transience of this school population and the growing number of English learners arriving at Rock Creek. While Rock Creek’s state test scores are lower than others in the area, they are steadily improving and getting closer to the 800 goal in which all California schools strive to reach and exceed. Measuring scores from other schools in Placer County with scores from Rock Creek does not provide an accurate side-by-side comparison. With a student population of over 50 percent English language learners and 76 percent of all Rock Creek students considered economically disadvantaged, there are very few county schools and no Auburn-area schools with similar ethnic and economic demographics. Additionally, multiple educational studies show it takes at least seven years for these children to master English. Yet schools are required to test them after only 12 months of arrival in the United States. Moreover, they are expected to perform at the same level as a child born and raised in an English-speaking household. Still Rock Creek has continually made nearly every growth target and has improved the school’s overall API scores. All of our teachers, district-wide, are considered highly qualified, and every teacher is trained and state-certified to work with English learners. In addition to daily English Language Development instruction, Rock Creek has a bilingual principal, several Spanish-speaking staff members, and a bilingual Spanish immersion teacher who works with all newcomers. Three federally funded support teachers and bilingual aides provide small group instruction not only to English learners but students needing extra assistance. Additional supplemental curriculum and technology support the education of Auburn’s English learners. Since not every English learner arrives at kindergarten, the immersion teacher also works at E.V. Cain helping English learner students transition from elementary to middle school. We also have a bilingual district coordinator and school site coordinators to oversee programs and student progress. Understanding that parents are critical to academic achievement, a bilingual Community Liaison works with parents to help connect them to their child’s school program. Our state-funded Community Based English Tutoring (CBET) program is offered twice a week to help parents learn English. Bilingual staff teaches strategies to help parents become active in their child’s education, and even works with parents needing to complete their GED. The Boys & Girls Club has been a valuable link in improving the education for Rock Creek students. For their after-school program, our district provides a bilingual teacher to work with students on skills and homework. The Boys & Girls Club also has several bilingual staff members and community volunteers working with the students after school. We appreciate the 13 community volunteers who contributed 286 hours in the after school program at Rock Creek last year. Looking at our other schools, Auburn Elementary and E.V. Cain each have a bilingual administrator and key programs to support their English learners. E.V. Cain has implemented programs that connect their growing population of English learners to the middle school environment, helping prepare them for the rigors of high school. The Skyridge staff also provides exceptional support for the growing number of English learners at our K-8 school, which includes 14 different languages. In short, we embrace Auburn’s changing demographics and the ethnic and economic diversity of our district and students. We celebrate the success of our students when they progress from the English learner status to being proficient in English. As superintendent, I invite interested community members to visit our schools to learn more about the many programs supporting our English learners, and all of our students. You will find the children’s smiles contagious, and will see first-hand their excitement for learning. Finally, I applaud the hard-working staff at all of our schools. They not only strive to bridge the language gap to improve test scores but also are making a difference in the lives of all students, regardless of the language they speak. Michele Schuetz is the superintendent for the Auburn Union School District.