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Area second-language students do well on English examination

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Posted: Wednesday, March 26, 2003 10:00 pm

Students learning English as a second language at Lodi- and Galt-area schools are acquiring the skills at a rate above or near the state average, according to latest test results.

However, the results of the latest California English Language Development Test showed that not all districts showed improvement over last year's test results. This is the second year the state has required all "English learners" to take a standard state test.

At the Lodi Unified School District for example, 39 percent of English-learning students this year placed in the "early advanced" or "advanced" levels of English proficiency, compared to 31 percent last year, a 26 percent increase. A total of 7,257 students took the test in 2002, compared to 9,129 in 2001.

Students who rank in the top two levels are no longer required to take additional English classes.

At the Galt Joint Union Elementary School District, 31 percent of the students placed in the top levels, compared to 25 percent last year, a 24 percent increase. In 2002, 863 Galt Elementary students took the test, compared to 1,059 in 2001.

However, the Galt Joint Union High School District may have been a victim of its own success in last year's tests. This year, of the 341 English learners at the school, 58 percent ranked in the top two categories, compared to 66 percent of 361 test-takers last year. The results are a 12 percent decrease from last year's figures.

Statewide, the average improved dramatically to 32 percent, nearly a tripling from last year's 11 percent.

Christine Malandro, LUSD's coordinator of multilingual-multicultural programs, said she is pleased with the results.

"We try to stretch the students up to the next level of development," she said.

The district has made a serious staff development effort to make sure that teachers are able to bring English learners up to speed, Malandro said.

She said 85 percent of LUSD teachers have state authorization for cross-cultural language and academics instruction. The remaining teachers are in training for the authorization, she said.

Jeff Jennings, superintendent of the Galt elementary school district, said the test is an improvement over the variety of tests school districts used previously.

"In the past, we were often comparing apples and oranges," he said.

The new state standardized test, a requirement of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, is a valuable tool, Jennings said.

However, the test has its downside, Jennings said.

"It's a long test and it takes a long time to get the results back," he said.

In the last year, the district spent a lot of money training teachers to work with English learners, Jennings said. The results of that effort may not be evident in this batch of test results, he said.

"Next year, we will see the fruits of our labor in terms of staff development," Jennings said.

The state requires schools to provide special assistance to students who rank in the lower levels, he said. At Galt Elementary schools, students receive additional English language instruction almost every day.

Under state law, school districts must test all students for whom English is not the primary language, and when no other English language test results are available. The test is given once a year, or within 30 days of a new student entering a school.

The test evaluates students' abilities in three categories: listening/speaking, reading and writing. Kindergarten and first graders are only tested on listening/speaking skills.

Results for individual schools are available at the California Department of Education's CELDT Web site.

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