Month: April 2016

Reclassification Rates of English Language Learners

 

161653343_5b5131fa5f_z
Awards Wall by JIsc infoNet (CC BY-NC-ND)

 

In our elementary school, English Learners (EL) represent 33% of the student body. Last year (2014-15), 10% of EL students were redesignated as Fluent-English-Proficient (FEP). Compared to a 4% FEP reclassification rate five years prior, this could be considered an improvement. Yet, the last three years have seen a steady reduction in FEP reclassification rates (RFEP)- from 16% (2012-13) to 12 % (2013-14) to 10% (2014-15). Our reclassification rate appears to be leveling off. I’m wondering why, and also to what extent EL reclassification rates reflect on the quality of a school’s instruction and/or library services- if at all.

First, the why: More rigorous performance standards (the minimum tests scores and qualitative data, such as teacher feedback, that students must obtain in order to be reclassified) are associated with lower reclassification rates. So, the schools that make it more difficult to get out of EL status have a lower reclassification rate. The state board of education (SBE) provides guidelines on the standards but allows districts to create their own- and 90% of school districts adopt standards that are more rigorous than those recommended by the SBE.  There are two main things at play here that may affect reclassification rates: 1) the new CCSS testing environment necessitates a revision of district-specified scoring mechanisms; 2) changes in the Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) that increases funding for districts with large EL populations, potentially providing a disincentive to move kids up to FEP status.

Even though the reclassification issue is most sensitive for long term (6+ yrs) EL students in middle and high school where being an EL student starts effecting ACT scores, access to AP classes, and even graduation- I am still interested in understanding reclassification rates at the elementary level. It seems like a real catch 22; you don’t want to reclassify them too early, putting them into classes where they are unable to learn core concepts, and you don’t want to keep them in EL status too long, limiting their access to appropriate academic content and increasing stigma and demoralization.

Across the Twitterverse there appears to be a generalized concern about low reclassification rates (and a lot of celebrating of RFEP status). A recent report (Hill, Weston & Hayes, 2014) on reclassification of EL students in California recommends that reclassification standards be lowered in districts using standards more rigorous than those suggested in the SBE guidelines, and that perhaps all districts should follow a statewide standard reclassification criteria that is less rigorous. Some of the report’s key points:

  • Reclassified students not only outperform EL students, but also often do as well as native English speakers when it comes to measures of academic outcomes. But it’s best to reclassify early—those reclassified in grades 8 to 12 generally have lower levels of performance than those reclassified at younger grades.
  • It is possible that districts with high reclassification thresholds (strict fluency standards) are restricting the access of EL students to the full range of academic instruction that non-EL students receive, which would squelch the academic achievement of high-performing EL students.
  • Reclassified students’ outcomes are better in school districts with more rigorous performance thresholds, but not by much, calling into question if the trade-off between improved RFEP outcomes and fewer RFEP students is worth it.  

I don’t know what to think. Please chime in if you have some thoughts or experience with this.

Getting back to how and if the library has anything to do with reclassification rates: We know that students acquire critical grammar, vocabulary and text structure needed to comprehend the academic language found in textbooks through self-selected recreational reading. To that extent, the school library is supporting EL students by providing a wide range of reading materials and giving students free range to indulge their interests. I also think that having a good selection of native language books (in our case, Spanish) available would be helpful because background knowledge and general literacy in the native language both affect the rate at which students perform academically in English; reading skills are reading skills- they transfer from language to language. Literacy as a baseline skill is used to develop higher-order thinking skills. I don’t think lower reclassification rates directly reflect on the quality of a school’s instruction, but I do think that instruction in a student’s native language facilitates the acquisition of English, and that policies discouraging native-language use in the classroom (or materials in the library, for that matter) will diminish EL student engagement.

 

References

Hill, L. E., Weston, M., & Hayes, J. M. (2014). Reclassification of English learner students in California. Public Policy Institute of California. Retrived from http://www.ppic.org/content/pubs/report/R_114LHR.pdf

Advertisements

OER at Vista Unified School District

OER
OERs by AJ Cann (CC BY-SA 2.0)

 

Vista Unified School District (VUSD) was one of the first 10 districts to be a part of the “#GoOpen” movement which aims to rely less on textbooks and more on open, timely and often free educational resources (OER) available on the Internet. In fact, VUSD is one of a few districts testing a new OER platform by Amazon Education that will allow schools to upload, manage, share, and discover open education resources from a homepage that resembles the Amazon online retail website. This focus on OER is an opportunity for the district’s certificated school librarians, who are uniquely qualified to leverage OER, to show their expertise with curation and other edtech skills. As Joyce Valenza puts it, “This is our gig”. In her call-to-action on OER, she points out that we will need to take the lead in making sense of the massive amount of content that is going to hit schools, developing workflows to help teachers and leveraging content that will undoubtly help boost equality of access, as we develop user-friendly collections from a sea of content.

Buffy Gets Real

 

Uphill Battle_LG
Sphere by Tyler Merbler (CC-BY 2.0)

Ever since I came across this article (p. 56), I have been trying to ignore it. I’m a big fan of the unquiet librarian, and always pay attention to what Buffy Hamilton has to say. But it bummed me out a little bit (okay, a lot) in that it validated everything I was thinking as I worked through yet another exhausting assignment for my school libraries course: It’s impossible for someone to be all things to all people…how can the school librarian simultaneously be: 1) instructor for students (information and digital literacy) both in the library and in the classroom via co-teaching and collaborating with teachers, as well as instructor to teachers for edTech and other professional development units;  2) collection developer and manager; 3) facilities manager; 4) instructional technology specialist and website developer; 5) advocate; 6) program developer/manager? And all of this in the face of widespread misunderstanding (or outright cluelessness) about the role and value of the school librarian. This wearer-of-many-hats idea is a lofty, noble, heroic vision of the school librarian, for sure. But realistic? Maybe not so much.

In this article that had me questioning the treacherous path that is school librarianship, Buffy Hamilton, High School librarian and influential blogger, and Kristin Fontichiaro, author and professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, assess where the profession stands nearly 20 years after the release of Information Power (the American Library Association’s 1998 vision for school librarians) and urges us to discuss the unspeakable: is this really working?

Among the more painful excerpts about the 20-year old vision that has yet to unfold:

  • Despite being professionally recognized for superior transparency, innovation, pedagogy, and program advocacy- the “best” librarians still lost staff. [I needn’t go too deep into the widespread loss of school librarians, but this 2010 map drives home the point by mapping out the number of school districts within the U.S. that have eliminated their certified school librarian positions, despite evidence of the link between certified school librarians and the academic achievement of students.]
  • Teaching and learning are not necessarily the centerpiece of a school librarian’s professional practice. In some states, a teaching certificate is required, in others it’s not. Across the country, meaningful collaboration with teachers is the exception, not the rule; many teachers don’t think there’s room for inquiry-based work with their students anyway, given the ever-present threat of standardized testing, and even if they do, tend to marginalize the librarian’s role to a short, 1-shot tack-on to a brief library visit.
  • Thinking about the wearer-of-many-hats idea: “Are we accidentally setting up unreasonable expectations for the overall profession? What might the cost be of flying the profession’s flags so high that no one can reach them?” What, in fact, does it mean to be a “great” school librarian? Sometimes, it just means that you had less obstacles (a more supportive district, a larger school site funding base, more cooperative teachers, etc.) How does local context allow for meaningful performance metrics across the discipline?
  • And this one that I’ve been struggling with since my school libraries coursework began: “What do librarians do that classroom teachers cannot?” Of course, the answer has to do with our combination of being information specialists (heavy on inquiry and research skills), curriculum generalists, and saavy with technology- yet this unique combination of skills somehow remains invisible to the larger school community. Open educational resources (OER), classroom libraries, and 1:1 programs now muddle up this skill set and make it appear that everything is available online anyway.

I’ll leave you with the last searing question of the article: “[can] the dreams that began with Information Power still be achieved? Is our job to face reality and adapt, subjugate, or thwart it? Or to continue to push a boulder up a steep, resistant hill, strong in our convictions but exhausting ourselves with the Sisyphean effort?”

This article was published in the print version of Knowledge Quest (Sept/Oct 2014), so I don’t know what kind of conversations ensued. What’s your take?