[lg policy] Focusing on the language skills of English Learners key to boosting math scores

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Tue Apr 17 10:14:29 EDT 2018

 Focusing on the language skills of English Learners key to boosting math
English language learners
<http://edsource.org/topic/english-language-learners>April 16, 2018Ashley
Hopkinson <https://edsource.org/author/ahopkinson>
on the language skills of English Learners key to boosting math scores:
&summary=An Education Trust–West report highlights successful strategies
some California districts implemented to improve English learners'
performance in math. &source=EdSource>
<https://www.newsmatch.org/organizations/edsource> <?subject=Sharing
Focusing on the language skills of English Learners key to boosting math
scores&body=Just sharing this story from EdSource with you.
Credit: Ashley Hopkinson/EdSource
Students read a book about counting at a math “festival” at Allendale
Elementary School in Oakland. Developing language skills through math is
one strategy to help English learners, a new report says.

Boosting the language development of students whose first language is not
English is critical if California is to narrow the wide and persistent gaps
in math test scores between its nearly 1.4 million English learners and
their English-proficient peers.

That is the recommendation in a recent report by Education Trust–West,
which highlights the successful strategies that five California districts
implemented to improve the academic performance of English learners. The
titled, “Unlocking Learning II: Math as a Lever for English Learner
Equity,” also identifies practices that schools and districts can use to
provide more support to English learners and recommends state-level
strategies that the California Department of Education could consider to
better support districts’ English learners.

The school districts highlighted in the report are Westminster School
District, Rowland Unified, Alhambra Unified, San Francisco Unified and
Kerman Unified School districts.

Some examples of successful strategies include schools that reduced
tracking in math classes to provide more access to advanced classes for
English learners. One school recorded morning announcements in students’
languages to help them feel welcome and one of the districts trained 550
teachers on how to integrate language development skills into other
subjects for English learners.

To examine what it takes to reduce the achievement gap for California’s
English learners, researchers interviewed experts in math education and
also visited schools and observed their teaching practices. Based on this
work, researchers identified four key practices that support English
learners and math education.

They include: upholding students’ languages, cultures and backgrounds as
assets in math classrooms; integrating more English language development
with math content; increasing professional development for teachers,
specifically around language and math; and providing academic support in
students’ primary languages to ensure equal access to math coursework.

California has among the highest number of English learners in the country,
and the significant gaps in achievement between them and their
English-proficient peers in math is “concerning,” said Rachel Ruffalo,
senior practice associate with Education Trust–West and lead author of the

According to the report, in 2017 only 12 percent of English learners met or
exceeded math standards on the California Assessment of Student Performance
and Progress compared to 43 percent of students whose native language is
English and those assessed as fluent in English at the time of enrollment.

Ruffalo said even with recent changes in policy such as Proposition 58
a law that allows school districts to open more bilingual classrooms, and the
English Learner Roadmap
new language policy guideline adopted by the State Board of Education,
“California is still underperforming,” and schools are searching for
strategies to improve the academic performance of English learners.

While the report draws some conclusions based on standardized tests, it
primarily focuses on findings based on classroom observations and focus
groups with district leaders, teachers and students. Ruffalo said
highlighting practices that are working is one of the key purposes of the
report so it can act as a guideline to districts that are struggling to
support and improve the math scores of English learners.

One of the report recommendations is that school districts adopt or develop
teaching materials for math that contain language teachers can more easily
adapt into curriculums they are already using. For instance, San Francisco
Unified School District’s K-12 math curriculum includes math problems that
take multiple steps to solve and typically encourage students to discuss
their work in order to arrive at the answer.

The report also recommends professional development focused on both English
and mathematics to improve the English language skills and math scores of
English learners. This should include ongoing coaching and time for English
Language Development and math teachers to collaborate and support each
other in incorporating more language into math classes, it states.

At William Northrup Elementary School in Alhambra, Calif., where 40 percent
of the students are English learners, the school developed a team of three
teachers and a math instructional specialist, who meet once a month to plan
a math lesson with a special focus on reaching English learners. After the
lesson is taught by each teacher, the team meets to discuss how the lesson
worked and how it could be improved. In 2017, English learners at Northrup
met or exceeded the math standards on the Common Core standardized test at
nearly three times the rate of English learners in the state, the report


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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