SMMUSD HDQRTRS — The Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District is exceeding most of California’s goals for students learning English as a second language but according to state standards, some students are not advancing quickly enough.

Terry Deloria, assistant superintendent of educational services, briefed the Board of Education on the status of the district’s English language learners at Thursday’s meeting.

There were fewer than 1,000 English learners in the district this school year, down from nearly 1,900 in 1997. Nearly 9 percent of students fall into the category, down from 17 percent in 1997. The percentage has held steady for the past few years.

Most of these students are born in the United States, followed by Mexico, then Russia, Spain and Egypt.

Deloria tracks how many years each English learner has been enrolled in a U.S. school. Last year, 168 students that enrolled in the district were brand new to the United States.

Every year, English learners are given state-mandated tests to track their progress. The state wants to see at least half the students growing one level each year. About 75 percent are advancing at that pace in the district.

In another category, which measures how English learners perform in the statewide end-of-year English and math tests, the district consistently hit state goals until recently. For the past four years they’ve missed the mark on the English portions of the tests. “Most districts” are struggling in this category, Deloria said.

There is a relatively new category that essentially measures how many students are stuck. These are students that have been enrolled in a U.S. school for more than six years and are scoring “proficient” or lower on the their English language tests for two or more years in a row. About 15 percent of the district’s English learners are stuck.

The district is aiming to drop that to 12 percent by the 2016-17 school year.

Currently, the district is successfully reclassifying English learners as fluent at a rate of 6.8 percent. By 2016-17, they’d like that rate to jump to 12 percent.

District officials outlined their plans for improving their scores. They plan to, among other things, make sure these students are getting help not only from specific English language teachers, but from every classroom teacher.

They plan to monitor the students more frequently, beyond the annual state-mandated tests.

Professional development classes and workshops will be streamlined and made more cohesive.

Boardmember Jose Escarce noted the district’s steadily improving budget forecast and suggested more specific resources could be allocated to English learners.

“What we haven’t seen in your next steps is a careful reexamination of whether expanding staff for the program and increasing the number of dedicated sections strategically is a good idea,” he said. “I just can’t imagine that it isn’t a good idea. There must be ways to increase the number of dedicated sections strategically, specifically at the secondary level, to improve the (English Language Development) program as a whole.”

One challenge, Deloria explained, is that there are relatively few English learners in the district.

“That’s tough when you don’t have large numbers because it becomes difficult to allocate the resources,” she said. “How do you provide services to a small number? I will say that I don’t think we’re tapping into our teacher workforce. I think we need to tap into our teachers more, not just at the elementary level but middle and high school as well, not just … what we’re doing in our stand-alone classes, but what we are doing in every classroom.”

These types of programs are scrutinized more intensely when it comes time to add teachers, Escarce said.

“I think we have an obligation to see whether staffing is part of the solution,” he said.

Boardmember Oscar de la Torre echoed Escarce’s sentiments and asked that the district officials also look at the socio-emotional struggles of the non-fluent speakers.

“A lot of these cases, the students are new to the country and they’re trying to integrate into our society, so finding ways to engage the parents a little bit more,” he said.

District officials agreed and noted that they have specific plans to do so.

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