Students now 'fluent proficient'

COSTA MESA — More than 170 students at Newport-Mesa public schools whose mother tongue isn't English have made the grade in learning the language.

They performed well on two tests, which allows them to be reclassified as "fluent proficient" in the English language, district officials said.

Another 300 to 400 students are expected to receive the same designation by March.

While the numbers in English proficiency are the same as last year, the Newport-Mesa Unified School District is proud of the accomplishments, and certificates will be forthcoming, said Karen Kendall, director of the district's English Learner Program.

Some of the better-performing schools included Rea Elementary with 23 students, Costa Mesa Middle High with 31, TeWinkle Elementary with 19, Whittier Elementary with 13 and College Park Elementary with 11.

The total was 176, but those numbers will go up March 1, when all students in Newport-Mesa Unified are tallied under the district's R-30 Language Census Report, Kendall said.

Every year, about 5,500 students district-wide who speak another language at home — mainly Spanish — learn English-language skills, Kendall said.

At Rea, Principal Anna Corral said 23 of her students scored well this semester on the California English Language Development Test and the California State Standards Test. The district will honor them soon with a special certificate.

In addition, the students, enrolled from third to sixth grades, also received letters of recommendations from their teachers paving the way for reclassification.

They also received good grades on their report cards, Corral said.

As a result, the students do not have to take the California English Language Development Test, or CELDT.

The elementary school on Costa Mesa's Westside has had its ups and downs with academic achievement. The campus has nearly 500 students, 87% of whom are learning English through the district's English Language Development Program, Corral said.

The district's philosophy is one of immersion in English-only classes, with a strong emphasis on parental involvement, Corral said. Many of the students either have ties to Mexico or parents who are originally from Mexico, and as a result, often there are communication and cultural barriers.

"These kids were not speaking English when they first came to the school, and we've been working with them closely," said Corral, a Latina who speaks Spanish and whose family hails from both New Mexico and Mexico.

According to Corral, there are several criteria upon which English fluency and proficiency are based, including how well the students can read, write, listen and speak English. The tests, required by the district each year, are administered orally as well as written, Corral said.

Part of the student success is due to the hard work of teachers and to increasing parental involvement at the school site, Corral said, adding that the relatively new Parent Center, which opened a few months ago, has become a popular place to convene and to read books among the parents and the children.

The school is also teaching many of the parents how to become better at parenting through special classes held throughout many of the district schools.

"I think every parent is supportive and they help out in any way they can, at both home and school," Corral said.

A new book club is expected to be formed next year to encourage parents to read more and pass the passion to their children.

On Friday, a 40-page report released by the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, in conjunction with the National Education Assn., found that more parental involvement leads to greater academic success, said Araceli Simeon-Luna, the national parent-school partnership program director for MALDEF, based in Los Angeles.

Simeon-Luna said the study's conclusions, which call for greater accountability among parents and districts, is important, given that three out of five children entering kindergarten in California are Latino.

The report can be accessed at http://maldef.org/resources/publications/NEA_Report.pdf.

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