In Partnership with 74

Dual language programs are so popular that LAUSD plans to double the number of schools offering them by next year

Mike Szymanski | October 19, 2017

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Kingsley Elementary fourth-grader Kaylee Gramajo talks about being an English learner.

Demand for LA Unified’s dual language programs is so high that the district plans to expand from 16 schools offering the programs to as many as 35 schools next year.

Meanwhile, the nation’s second-largest school district — where students speak 94 languages — is closing in on meeting its goals for improving test scores for English learners and getting more of them to graduation.

“All students deserve to learn two languages,” Hilda Maldonado, the executive director of the Multilingual and Multicultural Education Department, said Tuesday during a presentation on the district’s programs for English learners.

The district is seeking ways to capitalize on the many languages already spoken by students in the culturally diverse district, and administrators are trying to figure out ways that teachers who are fluent in more than one language can help teach in multiple languages.

Some of the successes for the district include:

  • Increasing the reclassification rate to 21 percent, representing 26,154 students who have shown an improved comprehension of English. The rate last year was 17.2 percent, and the district’s goal for this year is 22 percent.
  • Decreasing the percentage of long-term English learners to 21 percent, or 4,795 students. The goal is 17 percent.
  • Increasing the number of English learners who graduate. Last year, 1,872 got their diplomas. This year’s goal is 3,340 students.
  • Decreasing the number of long-term English learners with disabilities by 1,360 students. There are now 13,680 long-term English learners with disabilities in the district, and the district is trying to get them all into mainstream classrooms.

The number of dual language programs in the district has more than doubled in the past five years, increasing from 44 in 2012-13 to 101 programs this year. Also, the long-term English learner rates for the district overall are 7.9 percent while the state’s percentage of students who are long-term English learners is 9.4 percent.

“It is an exciting time at the district,” said Mara Bommarito, a director in the district’s dual language program. “We are going to see a larger period of growth of dual language programs in the district more than any other time before.”

Also, the district said they are finding ways to take away the stigma of being labeled an English learner and promoting dual language proficiency as being essential for all students.

“We are moving to be a more competitive school district and transforming from being monolingual to a multi-lingual district and show the strengths of that shift at the school sites,” said Vivian Ekchian, who is serving as acting superintendent while Michelle King is on medical leave until the end of the month.

In one of the school examples cited Tuesday, at the Committee of the Whole meeting held at Fairfax High School, Principal Karina Salazar of Kingsley Elementary School explained her successes. She talked about different math programs, different models of teaching English, and using small groups to help students. Another key element was engaging the parents through parent workshops and showing them instructional tools. She also brought in a student to speak.

“I really enjoy school, and I understand math and English in both languages,” said fourth-grader Kaylee Gramajo, who is a reclassified student.

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