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East Aurora students make gains on annual English proficiency test

JasDelgado left Jessie Ordaz right work making commercial for book teacher Lauren Harrington's third grade class Beaupre Elementary school AurorWednesday

Jason Delgado, left, and Jessie Ordaz, right, work on making a commercial for a book in teacher Lauren Harrington's third grade class at Beaupre Elementary school in Aurora on Wednesday, May 10, 2013. East Aurora School District saw big improvements on Access testing, which measures students english proficiency levels, and students doing well enough to test out of bilingual services. | Brian Powers~Sun Times Media

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Updated: June 14, 2013 6:15AM

AURORA — Sitting at tables in the gymnasium of East Aurora’s Simmons Middle School, about 140 bilingual education teachers and administrators anxiously looked at the giant projector screen.

They were waiting to hear how their students fared on the annual ACCESS test, a federally mandated exam for all public school English-language learners that measures both academic growth and English-language proficiency.

Once students score high enough on the test, they no longer qualify for bilingual services and move into general education classes full-time.

Diane Argueta, the district’s director of bilingual services, made the big reveal: 23 percent of 1,099 students had scored high enough on the exam to move out of bilingual services, up from 16 percent last year and 10 percent five years ago.

“Give yourselves a round of applause,” she told the clapping teachers. “Those are all great accomplishments.”

The data from the state are still preliminary, Argueta said, but in most school years the finalized data have looked much the same.

The district saw some of the biggest gains in third and fifth grades.

This year, 62 percent of 772 third-graders will move out of bilingual services, compared to 42 percent last year.

In fifth grade, 37 percent of the 95 students will move on, up from 18 percent last year.

Argueta said it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why a grade level sees improvement in a particular school year because there are many contributing factors.

The district began a series of major curriculum and bilingual program model changes this year, including new Common Core aligned textbooks and new requirements that allow higher-achieving bilingual kindergarten, first- and second-grade students to receive more instruction in English earlier.

At Simmons, East Aurora’s Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services Beatrice Reyes Childress, told the bilingual education staffers that the academic growth bilingual students were experiencing was the result of program model changes that some “skeptics” and “naysayers” were opposed to last year.

“We changed the model to try to challenge our kids a little more,” she said.

On Friday, Argueta said “you can make a good assumption the program is helping,” but it’s unlikely that after only one year it is the only contributing factor to an increase in children becoming proficient in English.

It will be at least three years before the district has the data to track the difference the program model changes have made, she said.

In third grade, it’s typical to see a large number of exits from the bilingual program, Argueta added, since students have received at least three years of instructional support in their native language.

That year, students also get extra practice taking English standardized exams as they prepare for the Discovery Education Assessment, which is a good predictor for how students will fare on the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT).

Across the board, the district has worked to give bilingual and general education teachers at the same grade level more time to collaborate to improve lesson planning, Argueta said. The district also has increased professional development on teaching English-language learners, Argueta said, as the state moves toward the new Common Core standards.

As they have in past years, students in middle school were the least likely to test out of bilingual education. Just 7 percent of the 667 students in grades 6 to 8 who took the ACCESS test were deemed proficient in English.

In East Aurora, middle school is when bilingual students tend to “flatline,” Argueta said,” as they move out of “self-contained” classrooms where their fellow classmates are in the same program. Often they are scared to move out of bilingual education and have lower confidence levels, she said.

Part of the bilingual program model’s overhaul is aimed at getting more middle school students to become proficient in English, by providing some students with more English instruction, depending on their literacy score and the years they’ve been in the bilingual program.

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