LYNN — School administrative officials are exploring an overhaul of the district’s approach to meeting the needs of English language learners to comply with newly implemented legislation.
The changes include exploring different program options for ELL students, assembling an EL Parent (Family) Advisory Council, providing more accountability for the district in terms of its students reaching English language proficiency and making a seal of biliteracy available for graduates on their diplomas.
Those changes are meant to comply with the Language Opportunity for Our Kids (LOOK) Act, which was passed into law in November 2017 and provides more options for parents of ELL students, as well as increased accountability for schools and districts in meeting the needs of those students, according to Rania Caldwell, director of the Lynn Public Schools English Learner Education Department.
Efforts to meet the requirements of the law also coincide with one of Superintendent Dr. Patrick Tutwiler’s student achievement goals, which is to boost the performance of ELL students by increasing the number of those students reaching English language proficiency from 48 to 52 percent.
District data shows that there are 4,030 ELL and 1,407 former ELL students in the Lynn Public Schools. ELL students are the group most at risk of dropping out of high school in the district.
“We are looking to explore what are the best program options for our English learners and really using the EL Advisory Council to encourage parents to participate in the decision-making process for what the district wants for English learners,” Caldwell said.
School districts are only required to meet two components of the law this year, which are identifying pre-K English learners for the first time and assembling the parent advisory council, tentatively scheduled to meet for the first time in March, according to Caldwell.
Two-Way Immersion Program
The district is exploring a two-way Spanish immersion program, which would include ELL and non-ELL students, with an aim to roll it out at the kindergarten level in the 2020-21 school year. From there, the program would be implemented at subsequent grade levels each year.
School administrative officials are working with Salem Public Schools, which used to have a dual language program, to apply for a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to further explore what two-way immersion would entail.
The grant, which requires that one district has at least 400 ELL students and a larger district has at least 1,500, would provide up to $300,000 and split between Lynn and Salem schools.
“I like it because this is not a program just for ELLs,” Caldwell said. “It’s really a program for all kids to learn another language … It’s about making students bilingual and biliterate by the time they graduate.”
Right now, Lynn is a Sheltered English Instruction (SEI) district, which means all ELL instruction and materials must be in English to comply with a 2002 SEI mandate, which was approved by a ballot measure in Massachusetts. The LOOK act is meant to provide more options for instruction, according to Caldwell.
Seal of Biliteracy
School officials are aiming to have a seal of biliteracy available for students to include on their high school diplomas for this school year, which looks attractive to prospective employers and colleges. The seal, a component of the LOOK act, focuses on developing bilingual and biliterate students by graduation.
The district is waiting to hear from DESE on what would be the requirements of the seal, but Caldwell said it will probably include a certain score on the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS), some score on an approved world language assessment, and the student would have to demonstrate an advanced score in biliteracy.
Accountability for meeting the needs of ELL students
Another major component is accountability for districts on the progress of ELL students and the success of former ELL students, who are tracked for four years after passing an assessment that determines whether they can be formally declared English language proficient.
Supports must be provided for ELL students not making progress in English language proficiency, as determined by DESE. Those students are required to have an English Learner Success Template to identify goals, demonstrate strategic support and monitor student progress.
“I think the LOOK act in general really provides districts with more options and really focuses on getting families and students invested in learning two languages and becoming bilingual,” Caldwell said. “When it first became a bill, there was a lot of anxiety around it. (When we) saw the benefits of it, we were really excited to dive into it.
“In my entire time that I’ve been with the Lynn Public Schools, with the ELL initiative that Dr. Tutwiler envisioned, we have every school focusing on the same area to support our ELLs every month. It’s the first time we’ve seen such a cohesive rollout of an initiative that focuses on one of our most at-risk subgroups.”