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Immigrant Children Getting English Tests

As in years past, immigrant children new to the Placentia-Yorba Linda Unified School District will be tested on their proficiency in English in the opening weeks of school.

But this year, school officials said, the process should be a lot easier.

Last week, the district opened its first language assessment center, designed solely for testing children whose primary language is something other than English. In its first three days, more than 100 children from a variety of nations were tested for their academic skills and their ability to understand English.

State law requires that districts conduct such tests within 90 days of a child’s enrollment in a school. Based on the results, language experts advise parents on whether they need bilingual classes or English as a Second Language instruction. But until now, the process was done at each school.

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“We’re having an increase of immigrants or foreign language-speaking students,” said Jerry Jertberg, the district’s director of educational programs. “We got to the point where sometimes it got bigger than a school could handle.”

The tests take from 30 minutes to two hours, depending on a student’s grade level, and assess reading, writing and math ability as well as oral skills. To start, about a dozen language aides will be on hand to supervise the testing. They eventually will be transferred to classrooms as demand for testing declines.

The district’s percentage of students enrolled in English as a Second language programs and bilingual classes has increased rapidly in the past few years. Last year, 11.5% of the students required special language classes, district officials said. Two years ago, only 3% had a primary language other than English.

Most students will be tested in the next few weeks. Last year, about 300 children tested in the opening weeks of school, Jertberg said. This year, officials are expecting 100 to 150 more, he said.

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Of those tested so far this year, about half the students are Spanish-speaking, Pritchard said. Others speak Chinese, Japanese, Korean, German and French.

“This will make sure that testing will be done in a timely manner,” said Kathy Pritchard, the coordinator of the assessment center, at Casa Loma Avenue and Yorba Linda Boulevard. “The process will be much more efficient.”

For the next few weeks, the center also will offer help in registration, and county health officials will provide immunizations. Until school starts next Monday, the district also will test students at John O. Tynes Elementary School in Placentia because of the increased demand at the start of the school year.


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