Even though one in four school children in California are learning English, most school districts are still scratching their heads over how to best help these students.

That’s the gist of a new report from Education Trust-West, an education research and advocacy organization based in Oakland.

The central question for school districts trying to support English learners is how to challenge them academically while also helping them learn English.

Not all districts are doing poorly. The report highlights a few strategies used by some of the more successful districts, which include offering biliteracy programs, providing bilingual aids in the classroom and giving all students access to rigorous coursework.

If you’re curious about which districts are doing well, here’s a hint: San Diego Unified doesn’t make the list.

How are English learners doing locally? Here’s how I described it in July:

English learners have the highest dropout rate, and one of the lowest graduation rates out of any group of students in the district.

Their most recent scores on the California Standards Test are unsettling: Only 7 percent of 11th grade English-learners scored proficient or better in language arts; only 6 percent were proficient in algebra.

The rates at which students are reclassified have remained stagnant since 2008. Last year, more than 6,400 were considered long-term English learners, meaning they’ve been in U.S. schools for six or more years and still haven’t been reclassified. Another 2,200 had been in U.S. schools for four or more years.

Superintendent Cindy Marten has promised more help for English learners by training all teachers on how to support these students in their classrooms, a move that aligns with the report’s recommendations. Marten’s move earlier this year, though, to shift many English learner support teachers into full-time general teaching assignments, does not.

Parents scared that their kids will be left behind despite the support pledged by the district have reason to worry. On top of the overwhelming statistics, English learners are facing a triple whammy this year. As teachers across the district adjust to Common Core, tailoring those lessons for English learners will add to the challenge.

Students hoping to graduate in May 2016 will face tougher graduation requirements, including classes that some English learners may not be prepared to take and pass.

This past summer, the district said that it has got the situation under control, but the data on which students are on track to graduate isn’t yet available.

And last year the district cut in half the number of English support teachers designated to help these students at their school sites.

EdSource keyed in on one big recommendation made by the Ed Trust report that might also illuminate why some districts take so long to reclassify students as fluent, a decision that varies by district and is based on a yearly test.

The report recommends that the state provide up to two years of additional funds to support English learners after they’ve been reclassified, so districts will no longer have a “perverse incentive” to limit their progress.

Basically, districts currently get more money for English learners, but once they’re reclassified, that money goes away.

Mario Koran

Mario was formerly an investigative reporter for Voice of San Diego. He wrote about schools, children and people on the margins of San Diego.

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