“Dual Language” helps both sides

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, October 23, 2013
During a WL school board meeting, Monday, it was shown that students designated as English language learners enrolled in the Dual Language (DL) program perform higher on reading assessments in later years than those not in the DL program.

"ELL students start out slightly delayed," said instructional coach Melody Russell during the presentation, "But as you can see, they start taking off in the later years from other ELL students not in the program."

She was joined by instructional coach Gabi Bugenhagen in using the Scholastic Reading Inventory (SRI) reading assessment taken by all students to compare ELL students both in and out of the DL program.

The result, ELL students in the DL program read at a higher level than ELL students not enrolled in the DL program.

English language learners (ELL) are students whose parents have designated that his or her primary language is not English.

Specifically, for ELL students in grades three through five, 24 percent of non-DL students performed at a proficient or advanced level, while only 22 percent of DL students in the same grades performed at a proficient or advanced level.

However, SRI results begin to reverse as students get older. In grades six through eight, 41 percent of non-DL students performed at proficient or higher while 61 percent of DL students performed at proficient or higher.

In high school, grades 9 through 12, 58 percent of non-DL students achieved proficient or advanced on the SRI while 69 percent of DL students achieved proficient or advanced.

All previous data is from ELL students only, not those with English as a first language. The presenters also noted that the data left out students that have an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) in order to know purely about language acquisition.

"A lot of research shows that it takes seven years to learn a new language," Coordinator of the DL program Brenda Arthur-Miller said. "So that's why students in middle school really show improvement."

According to Arthur-Miller, the DL program has been in place for 15 years in West Liberty. All students are encouraged to join in Kindergarten and continue on in the program until they graduate.

What it is to be in the program varies. Students in the Early Learning Center develop Spanish during certain blocks of time in the day, elementary students do half their classes in English and the other half in Spanish; middle school students take world culture and spanish literacy classes in Spanish and high school students take specific Spanish classes.

Accordingly, once an ELL student enrolled in the DL program hits that seven-year mark of learning English, they begin to surpass other ELL students not in the program when it comes to reading.

"Basically, we wanted to see if the Dual Language Program has an impact on ELL students," added Arthur-Miller. "And yes, in the long term it’s helping improve reading scores."

The SRI assessment monitors a students' reading level over time through a computer reading test.

Through it, school systems can track a student's growth over the years and ensure that students in the district, as a whole, are performing at state mandated levels.

Both the school board and those involved in the DL program wanted to see if the program really had an impact on students that already know Spanish.

The West Liberty Community School District is well known for the DL program throughout the state of Iowa. Many parents bring their students to the district just for the DL program.

According to Arthur-Miller, it does more than help ELL students improve their reading ability.

"In general it opens more windows job-wise after high school, a lot of [students] have a good start on a major or minor by the time they graduate," she said.
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