Failure Guaranteed

Children classified in kindergarten will be ELs through third grade -- or longer. Even if they test as fluent on CELDT in higher grades, they’ll find it hard to exit the program. Some school districts won’t reclassify ELs as proficient in English unless they outperform their English-only classmates, earn above-average grades, get teachers’ recommendations, or other criteria.

They argue ELs must prove they’re able to handle mainstream classes without extra “services.”

ELs who leave the program in elementary school usually do fine. Those who remain ELs into middle school -- about half of the total -- are likely to fail.

Bilingual families can raise children who are proficient in English and ready for school, says García Bedolla.  (In fact, researchers say learning two languages as a child is good for the brain, making it more agile.)

To evaluate readiness, the professor suggests asking parents how often they read to their child or whether they have books at home. In addition, parents should be asked whether they think their child needs help with English and teachers should be asked how the child’s doing after a few weeks of school.

Years ago, I asked a San Jose kindergarten teacher how long it takes for English Learners to start speaking English.  Many students had told me their English clicked in at the Christmas break.

“A few days,” the teacher said.  Shyness -- not lack of English -- was responsible for kindergartners’ designation as ELs. And that was pre-CELDT when the test took less than 30 minutes. (CELDT was the reform!)

I know a bilingual toddler who’s very bright and somewhat shy.  Note to self: Warn Francesca’s parents to lie on the home survey.

Why are schools so eager to classify children as English Learners and so reluctant to reclassify them as proficient?

Follow the money: Schools get federal funding for English Learners.

García Bedolla agrees that the incentives are wrong. She adds that schools get kudos if ELs test as English proficient in third grade, even if they were fluent to begin with.  It’s an easy way to look good.

If ELs don’t do well, their failure can be blamed on their lack of English skills.