Tyler ISD adopts new bilingual program

Published on Friday, 19 June 2015 22:59 - Written by Betty Waters, bwaters@tylerpaper.com

Spanish-speaking elementary pupils in Tyler ISD’s bilingual program will be exposed to more English at an earlier age, as the district moves toward an early exit model of educating bilingual elementary students.

In the past, the district had what was called a late exit subtractive model, in which students were taught predominantly in their native language through third grade, although some subjects, such as math, were taught in English. Under that model, the district would gradually subtract the amount of Spanish instruction over time and increase the amount of English. Under the model, students remained in the bilingual program through fifth grade. 

Beginning next school year, Tyler ISD bilingual students will receive a 50-50 split of English and Spanish instruction by the time they reach first grade, and almost all of their instruction will be in English in second grade, with Spanish support through small group instruction and work stations. Instruction will be completely in English in third grade.

“We are hoping that by early acquisition of the English language, students will be more readily able to assimilate that English language into their academic world,” Dr. Christy Hanson, chief academic officer, said.

Depending on their English proficiency, students in the new model may exit the bilingual program after third grade and move on to receive English as a Second Language service, a program that offers language support within regular classrooms. Students who continue to struggle will be able to remain in the bilingual program through fifth grade. 

The English as a Second Language service is available in pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. It is integrated into regular classrooms in elementary schools. In middle school and high school, students take a separate ESL elective course, depending on their level of proficiency in English.

The district has 2,450 elementary students currently enrolled in bilingual education programs. 

Dr. Hanson said the school board contracted with Gibson Consulting Group to analyze the district’s bilingual/ESL programs due to poor performance among English learners once they hit middle and high school.

“We noticed they just weren’t performing at the level we thought they were capable of. We wanted to determine if there was anything internally that was happening programmatically that was creating a barrier,” she said.

Dr. Hanson said students’ performance on the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System and on the Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) exam showed a lot of Tyler ISD students were staying at the beginner or intermediate level in their English proficiency and not advancing enough to be able to exit the English as a Second Language program.

The consultants found some programmatic issues related to how the bilingual/English as a Second Language programs were set up and the supports offered on campuses, as well as implementation issues.

Data revealed the district does not have a high mobility rate with English language learners or a lot of newcomers who have been in the United States less than three years.

“What we have are students who culturally speak a different language at home … we want to encourage students who speak a different language at home and also help them with their English acquisition,” Dr. Hanson said.

The district created a steering committee to look at research, examine successful districts and campuses and determine what would be the best approach for Tyler ISD.

“Our goal became how we can help students with good English acquisition in reading, writing, speaking and listening,” Dr. Hanson said.

She said the district wants to honor the community’s cultural diversity and Hispanic heritage while at the same time help students acquire English language skills. 

“I think we will see an improvement in the STAAR scores, because students will feel more confident about acquisition of the language,” Dr. Hanson said. But the main goal, she added, is for students to be able to use their language of culture and English to achieve whatever goals, and improved STAAR scores will be a byproduct.

Schools that will switch from a late exit to an early exit model bilingual program in the fall include: Austin, Bell, Bonner, Dixie, Douglas, Griffin, Orr, Pete and Ramey.

Tyler ISD will drop the bilingual program at Caldwell Elementary Arts Academy, effective next fall, because the academy does not have enough bilingual students to make it financially feasible, Dr. Hanson said.

Parents of Caldwell students have the option to send students to another school with a bilingual program or opting out of the bilingual program and letting their children stay at Caldwell and receive help through ESL.

Birdwell Elementary will continue a different type of bilingual program known as the one-way dual language program, which is taught by teachers who are very proficient in both languages and have specific days of teaching English and Spanish, encouraging bilingual and biliterate proficiency by the time students reach fifth grade. Dr. Hanson noted Birdwell has good test scores, and said several principals are considering exploring the model. 

Tyler ISD also is in the introductory stage of piloting a co-teaching model in middle schools, which puts English as a Second Language teachers and general education teachers together in classrooms. The teacher who specializes in language acquisition would work with students to modify lessons for them to be successful with language acquisition, while the regular teacher would work on content. Both teachers would plan together and implement instruction together, Dr. Hanson said. 

A couple of middle schools may try the model next school year, Dr. Hanson said, but she declined to identify the schools since a decision has not been made.

The district tried the co-teaching model with special education last school year, and preliminary STAAR scores “look like we’ve had some success,” Dr. Hanson said.

The district also will use the next school year to examine and explore another bilingual education model designed to teach students skills they will need in college.

The overall goal of the various changes being made or considered for Spanish-speaking students, Dr. Hanson said, is to improve student performance for post secondary and career success, not just on the STAAR test.