Edmonds School District considering dual-language program at two elementary schools

Edmonds School District Director of Federal Programs Kelly Moses. (top left) briefing the Edmonds School Board on Jan. 12 about the proposed two-way dual language program. (Image via Zoom)

The Edmonds School District is considering offering a new dual-language program next fall at two elementary schools that would split classroom instruction time between Spanish and English.

At the Edmond School Board’s Jan. 12 business meeting, staff recommended adopting a two-way dual learning program for the 2021-22 school year that would begin teaching students to read, write and speak in Spanish from their first day of kindergarten. 

Two-way dual learning programs teach two groups of students — each with different home languages — to learn together in a systematic way so that both groups become bilingual and biliterate in the two languages. Lessons are taught in English and a target language — in this case Spanish — with teachers splitting instruction time between the two.

The balance of time spent teaching in each language can vary from program to program. The two most popular dual-language programs are the 90/10 model and the 50/50 model. The numbers represent the percentage of instructional time for each language, meaning participating kindergarteners would receive 90% of their instruction in Spanish and the other 10% in English. Each year, students move more and more toward parity until students are taught in both languages at an equal level.

“You have a lot of Spanish in the beginning and a lesser part of English,” said Director of Federal Programs Kelly Moses. “As you progress through elementary school, then you have more English, less Spanish.”

Though research shows both models achieve bilingualism and biliteracy, Moses said the district selected the 90/10 model because it’s proven to create higher levels of bilingualism.

The district has more than 3,000 English learners and 51% of the student population is Spanish-speaking. According to data from the 2014-15 through the 2018-19 school years, the district’s English learners scored 40% to 50% lower on state assessments in English language arts, math and science. In 2019, the graduation rate for English learners was 14% lower than their peers. 

“We have an achievement gap and we need to close it,” Moses said.

Staff have proposed implementing the program at Cedar Valley Community School and College Place Elementary School, both of which have high Spanish-speaking student populations. At College Place, 180 students come from Spanish-speaking households. At Cedar Valley, there are 177.

WIth the 90/10 model, participating elementary students would receive 90% of their instruction in Spanish and the other 10% in English. As they advance in grade levels, less Spanish is spoken and more English is used. (Image courtesy of the Edmonds School District)

The program responds to a formal request from Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal that every school district in the state offer a dual-language program by the year 2030. Currently, there are 91 dual-language programs in the state. 

Additionally, the state will switch its proficiency standards in August from English Language Proficiency Assessments (ELPA) to the WIDA Consortium. Moses said WIDA has Spanish language development standards that will benefit the district’s plans for the language program. Screening for prospective kindergarten students is scheduled to start this spring. 

Grant funding for the program is available from the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) with school board approval. Last year, the district received a grant for $36,000 for a beginning program. Though districts are given some leeway in how funds are spent, most of it goes toward professional development. 

According to research by Wayne Thomas and Virginia P. Collier, dual-language education is the only effective means of instruction to eliminate the achievement gap between English learners and native English speakers. Based on their data, the program enriches and enhances communication skills, has positive effects on intellectual growth, and offers flexibility in thinking, processing and listening. The research also shows that the program creates a solid foundation in language for college and career opportunities and offers students the ability to compete in a multilingual world.

“Learning a new language and transferring between languages gives you that flexibility in thinking and processing and listening,” Moses said.

For students to develop high levels of biliteracy and cross-cultural competencies, Moses said staff are hoping students will remain in the program for a minimum of six years. She said that is why the state is instructing the district to create a K-12 pathway and commit to running the program for at least six to eight years.

While the board voiced approval for the program, some directors said they had concerns about introducing students to a new language so early.

Director Nancy Katims suggested that instead of starting with the 90/10 model, students first be introduced to the 50/50 model to ease them into the new language. 

“If you’ve got the 50/50 (model), the kids are on an equal playing field,” she said. “I’m not saying stay at the 50/50 (model), just the first few weeks and then phase them up.”

Director Gary Noble said he was concerned the program could pose problems for English-speaking students, cauing them to fall behind.

“It would, logically to me, say that the English-speaking students in the Spanish-only class…also would not do well and would end up behind their peers by the time they got to second or third grade,” he said.

However, district staff insisted the program would work. Pointing to the program’s research, Executive Director of Equity & Student Success Victor Vergara said it would be essential to build a strong foundation in Spanish as a first language. As a supporter of the dual-language program, Veraga said he has seen several times how beneficial it can be for students from both English-speaking and Spanish-speaking families.

“From my own personal experience I can assure you one thing —  that by fifth grade, students should be bilingual and biliterate in those two languages,” he said.

Superintendent Gustavo Balderas said students enrolled in dual-language programs usually outperform their monolingual-speaking peers in high school. 

“It’s pretty remarkable and it’s been proven time and time again,” he said.

Student Advisor Isabela Vergara said she had been enrolled in a dual-language program throughout elementary school, where she witnessed English-speaking kids have little issue learning Spanish. She added that English-speaking students had the advantage of still being able to communicate with their English-speaking teachers while learning Spanish, which is something she said Spanish-speaking kids often do not have.

Director Ann McMurray pointed out that while OPSI might just be formally asking districts to offer dual-language programs, it won’t be long before it is a requirement and the district should prepare for it. In response to concerns about input from parents and the community, McMurray said she was sure that parents from other districts where the program is thriving have already asked “every conceivable question” that Edmonds parents will ask.

“It’s pretty amazing to me that 31% of the districts in the state are doing this,” she said. “If we want to continue to have Edmonds be an attractive, forwarding-thinking district, I’m totally on board with this.”

Next, Moses said the district will begin to advertise the program and engage the community. Before the program can move forward, a minimum of 50 students at each school needs to show interest in participating.

Staff will host information nights on to-be-determined dates at both Cedar Valley Community School and College Place Elementary School. Parents will be invited to learn about the more dual-language program philosophy, research, curriculum and learning materials. Families will also be able to ask questions during the meetings and learn about the application process, necessary timelines and commitment to the program.

In other business, the board held a first reading of a proposed revision to the district’s immunization policy. No action was taken, but the board reviewed a proposal to update the policy’s language regarding the immunizations against the spread of “certain communicable diseases.”

Though the proposal does not mention the coronavirus or COVID-19 directly, the proposal states students will be required to present evidence of his/her/their having been immunized against diseases as required by the Washington State Board of Health. According to the draft, students who do not provide proof of immunization — with the exception of those with a district-approved exemption — could be denied entry to schools when the dietcet returns to in-person learning.

“Our expectations need to be in line with what the Department of Health recommendations are,” Director Katims said.

Also during the meeting, the board was briefed on plans from the district’s athletic department to offer outdoor conditioning sessions to student athletes at the four comprehensive high school. During the 45-minute sessions, students will be broken into pods of five, spaced 6 feet apart and wearing masks. Pods will be overseen by the schools’ coaches, almost all of whom have expressed interest in participating in the sessions.

The following day, MTHS Athletic Director Sharlee Burr announced that MTHS would not begin offering the sessions with the rest of the high schools.

In a letter addressed to Terrace families, Burr wrote that the school’s administration and coaching staff have decided to wait until they feel it is completely safe for coaches, athletes, families and the community at large. Instead, Burr said any decision on when the school will offer conditioning sessions will be based on the trend and metrics of COVID-19.

“Administration and the coaching staff will review this data weekly, starting (Jan. 19), and when administration and coaches feel it is safe to start holding outdoor conditioning at our school, we will do so,” she said.

–By Cody Sexton

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