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Updates align School Board policy, plan with current practices for English learners

The School Board on May 14, 2019 approved updates to its policy governing English language learners; updated a required plan for supporting English language learners; and, got a glimpse of programming for English language learners from the program's instructor.

Click to view English for Speakers of Other Languages programming presentation

Nineteen students are enrolled in Cape's English for Speakers of Other Languages programming: three at the High School, six at the Middle School and 10 at Pond Cove, said teacher Jessica Miller in a presentation to the board. Spanish and Arabic are the most common of the 11 different languages spoken, she said, with speakers and families coming from: Canada, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Iceland, India, Iraq, Netherlands, Pakistan, Peru, Rwanda, Venezuela. "Whew!," Miller said. "We're truly an international program."

The main goal of the program, required by federal law and by School Board policy, is to help English learners attain proficiency. "Part of my job is also to develop an individual language plan for each student which outlines goals and monitors progress," she said. "I also meet with content teachers and provide strategies and support."

Services are aided by Maine's membership in the World Instructional Design and Assessment consortium, which provides guidance for teaching and "ACCESS" evaluations for students. Students are annually tested on listening, speaking, reading and writing skills and given a proficiency score ranging from 1 (beginner) to 6 (comparable to a native speaker).

"We just received our ACCESS scores from this year, and I'm happy to report that all of our students made progress and many of our students made a lot of progress – we had three students exit the program this year," Miller said.

Next year the schools anticipate at least 14 in the program, with six kindergartners slated for screening come September. "Early screening is not recommended, it can result in the over identification of (English learners)," said Cathy Stankard, director of teaching and learning and coordinator of the plan for English learners. "So much progress is made over the summer at that kindergarten age," Stankard said. "It just makes a lot more sense then to do that screening in September. Even though it can be difficult in terms of scheduling, it's just considered best practice," she said.

The threshold is also higher for kindergartners: While older children already receiving services need to score 4.5 on the ACCESS assessment to exit the program, a kindergartner needs to score 6. Families may also refuse services, but that's not typically done, Stankard said.

The procedure for screening, assessing and ultimately graduating students are outlined in the school's Lau Plan, a federally mandated plan named for a 1974 Supreme Court case, Lau v. Nichols. "What that Supreme Court decision did was to require that school districts have an equal access plan to protect the English language learners," said Stankard.

The most important screening component, Stankard said, is the language-use survey included in school enrollment packets. Further assessment is based on the survey completed by parents and guardians.

In addition to supporting English learners, a goal of the ESOL program is to celebrate diversity in Cape Elizabeth, said teacher Jessica Miller. "Whenever you have students together from different cultures it really benefits the entire community as a whole," she said.

The updates to the "English Language Learners" policy and to the Lau Plan approved by the School Board May 14 reflect current practices in support of English learners.