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English learning improves at Burbank school district

Burbank Unified English learners enjoyed their best effort in three years as more kindergarten through 12th-grade students mastered English and classified as fluent.

The district’s English Learner Advisory Committee released results for the recently concluded school year that showed 18.4% of English-learning students reclassified from learner to fluent.

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“Last year when I talked … about reclassification, we were actually below the county and the state [levels] ever so slightly, just slightly off the state and definitely below the county, which we never are,” said Jennifer Goldenberg, the district’s coordinator of English language services.

During the 2016-17 school year, the district’s 13.2% rate of reclassification fell below the state and county levels, which were 13.3% and 15%, respectively. Goldenberg chalked up to a switch in standards from the California English Language Development test to the new English Language Proficiency Assessment for California exam.

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This year, the district bounced back as its 18.4% topped county (16.9%) and state (14.60%) averages and was the best for Burbank Unified since 2014, when it was 22.3%.

Students are placed into three groups: English learners, initially fluent and reclassified fluent.

The committee identified 1,637 English learners in the district, with Miller Middle School’s tally of 271 being the highest of any local public school.

While there are more Spanish speakers than Armenian (15% to 13%), the predominant language spoken by English learners is Armenian, which beat Spanish, 42% to 36%. Roughly 6% of English learners speak Arabic, which is ahead of 4% for Russian, 2% for Tagalog and 1% for Korean. About 9% of English learners speak another language not listed.

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Maybe the most eclectic campus in Burbank Unified is Washington Elementary, where the 130 English learners are nearly evenly split between Armenian, Spanish and Arabic.

Of those total students, 489 count as Title III eligible immigrants, hailing from several countries, with the top three being Armenia, India and Iran.

Goldenberg identified some of the steps in determining a student’s English skill level, which begins with a questionnaire.

“On the home-language survey, if the parent says that the child learned to first speak another language, we have to access them,” she said. “It’s part of [national and state] education code.”

On top of reporting results, the committee also relays parent feedback and gives recommendations.

What mattered most for English-learner parents, according to the committee, was an emphasis on literacy and math, language acquisition and help with homework, along with an understanding of high school graduation requirements, college entrance requirements and financial aid.

Parents also asked for help with after-school math classes, basic books explaining math to parents, parent training (such as math or science), more online resources and additional parental hands-on activities.

There was also a theme of equality.

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“What is taught in some schools in regards to parent training should be held at all the schools,” Nuria Lundberg, committee president, said. “For example, if some schools are holding science nights or math nights, parents want to make it even at all the sites so it can be standardized and that all parents receive the same training.”

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