Colorado: RFSD expands English language program

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Sun Sep 17 14:04:43 UTC 2006

>>From Aspen Daily News
RFSD expands English language program

David Frey - Aspen Daily News Correspondent
Sat 09/16/2006 06:01PM

Sharon Moya knows more than a little about teaching English to people who
grew up speaking a different language. She's been doing it for 39 years,
in countries like China and Liberia, and for the past six years, at Basalt
High School. This year, she's taken over a new position in the Roaring
Fork School District, overseeing the district's English Language Learner
program. The new position is an indication of the importance of English
instruction in a district that continues to see a growing influx of Latino
immigrants who arrive speaking little or no English. Moya becomes the
district's third "instructional facilitator." One is dedicated to
elementary instruction. One is dedicated to middle and high school
teaching. Moya is the first to deal with specific educational needs, like
ELL, a program previously known as English as a Second Language (or ESL).

"I think it says that as a district we want to focus on the issues
specifically related to ELL and non-native-speaking students," she said.
For the district, it's not just a matter of making sure the students
learn. It's a matter of keeping the schools afloat. The number of native
Spanish speakers taking the critical state CSAP tests used to evaluate
schools has left the district with scores that don't reflect the
educational quality, district officials say. Both Spanish-speakers and
English-speakers often do well and show improvement, but low scores leave
the district with a black eye. Anglo students often outperform
top-performing schools across the state, they say, and Latino students may
show big improvements, but overall test scores look low. "How would you
feel if someone put a test in Greek in front of you and for three days
you'd have to take this test in Greek?" Moya asked. That's the plight
non-native speakers may face when confronted with CSAP tests, Moya said.
And their plight becomes the district's plight.

Carbondale Elementary faced the possibility of being taken over by the
state before it merged with Crystal River Elementary last year, giving the
district a reprieve. "We always cared about how children were learning,
but we better care in a hurry," said Superintendent Judy Haptonstall, who
created Moya's position after she took the district's top job this school
year. As assistant superintendent, overseeing ELL had been part of
Haptonstall's job. "The urgency of the whole picture, of how we're helping
ELLers to be successful is really all around No Child Left Behind and all
the consequences behind the state and federal level," she said, referring
to the federal legislation that imposes stiff penalties if schools don't
meet improvement targets. At the elementary level, schools may have to
replace staff and bring in new principals. At the high school level, they
face what Haptonstall said is a policy of "public embarrassment."

If the CSAPs weren't testing students with a limited grasp of English, the
results would be different, she said. "Would we be making our achievement
targets? Absolutely we would be," she said. She pointed to studies that
show young people need six or seven years to be proficient in English. The
federal government doesn't give students that kind of time, she said. Last
year, the district's student body was about 42 percent Latino, and about
36 percent were in an ELL curriculum. Crystal River Elementary was about
80 percent Latino, and while the district is still tallying this year's
student body, Haptonstall expected it to stay about the same.

The situation raises concerns about segregation for Moya. While Latino and
non-Latino students may share the same hallways, she said, they may seem
to be in very different schools. Spanish speakers often end up spending
much of their time in ELL classrooms away from other classmates. "It's a
segregation model," she said. "We would like to move toward an inclusive
model." Moya said she hopes to improve and standardize the ELL program.
But she also wants to move more ELL students into regular classrooms. If
students stay in ELL programs for too long, they sometimes "flatten out"
she said.  Often, they're English skills spike after being put in regular

"I would definitely like to see a more inclusive model," she said. "I just
think we do a disservice by segregating our ELL students. I think we
definitely do a disservice to our Anglo population, too, by creating that
fear factor." Moya knows more than a little about learning other
languages, too. The list of languages she's studied reads like a geography
quiz. Take the old standbys: English, Spanish and French. Add Russian,
Chinese, Hungarian and Catalan. Then throw in the West African languages
of Mano and Ga. Integrating native Spanish-speakers into English-speaking
classrooms can be a challenge for teachers, Moya acknowledged. They may
need simpler language or fewer colloquialisms. But as the district moves
toward more standards-based education, a model that focuses more on
student learning than teaching from the blackboard, it's a system that
should work, she said. "(Teachers) have their lesson plans that they've
been doing for years and they don't work anymore," she said. "But I keep
going back to the same thing. If you're really a teacher at heart and you
want to do what's best for students, I think that one-size-fits-all just
doesn't work for students."

dfrey at

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