Spanish-speakers get more focused curriculum

A heightened state and federal focus on the educational achievement of underserved or at-risk populations has meant more money for those programs.

In Moffat County, that increase has meant more training for teachers and an improved curriculum for English-language learners.

The differences might be subtle, but students will reap the benefits, said Christine Villard, director of student services for the Moffat County School District.

The district employs an English Language Learners coordinator, and each school -- including the district's preschool -- houses paraprofessionals who work with ELL students under the coordinator's direction.

It wasn't too long ago, Villard said, that all the elementary level ELL students in the district -- 10 or so -- were bused to Ridgeview, where they had classes and a paraprofessional taught and managed the program. Now, the elementary-level ELL population alone tops 75. The district counts about 160 total.

"Our population has in--creased dramatically, and I don't think that's just Moffat County," Villard said.

To serve what is a growing population, teachers cobbled together a curriculum based on best practices for that particular skill -- reading, writing and English language acquisition.

It wasn't a bad curriculum, Villard said, because it was based on techniques that were proven to be effective. But it wasn't focused and cohesive, he said.

The new curriculum takes the three skill sets and aligns how they are taught. Students focus on the same concept throughout their oral, written and reading lessons.

"This curriculum is used across the nation and shown to be effective," Villard said. "Across the nation we're identifying second-language learners as responding better to a specific focus and a certain method."

It will be implemented next year in Moffat County.

One goal, Villard said, is to ensure the district meets the No Child Left Behind Act standards.

Moffat County has an advantage in that its ELL population is Spanish-speaking and the district is able to hire Spanish-speaking paraprofessionals. Other school districts can have ELL populations consisting of 40 languages.

"We're lucky," Villard said. "The Hispanic population really values education. They're a wonderful group."

The uniform structure of the new curriculum, it is hoped, allows students to transition into mainstream classes faster. The NCLBA is starting to measure how fast ELL students are integrated into regular classes. That's something the Moffat County School District hasn't tracked before.

Basic standards vary. A student starting with no English skills is expected to have basic interpersonal skills in three to five years and be fluent "academically" in five to seven years.

"It's hard to learn a different language," Villard said.

ELL students are tested twice a year to measure progress. Results of those tests determine state funding for the program. They are exempt from Colorado Student Assessment Program tests for the first three years they're in the program, though there is a Spanish version of the CSAP test available to third-graders.

ELL students can exit the program after they demonstrate oral language proficiency and are at their grade level in reading and writing achievement.

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