Dispelling Myths about English Language Development

By Chief Director or Assessments, Research, and CALPADS, Ms. Lindi Dreibelbis

Districts today are charged with meeting the needs of every learner who comes through its school doors. The English Language Development (ELD) Program, for students who are new to this country or just learning English, supports those specific learning needs and is a very different program from its predecessor of even a few years ago.  

Many parents are surprised to learn that research shows it takes five to six years to become academically fluent in another language. Language acquisition is a slow process, but is rapidly increased with specific-targeted instruction. The ELD Program in La Canada provides just that. The goal of the ELD Program is for English learners to gain fluency in English as rapidly as possible and to have access to their grade-level curricula. The program is designed to address every English learner’s needs based on his/her grade and English level. Our small population of English language learners (under 7% of total district-wide enrollment) allows individualized lessons based on the needs of each child in the areas of listening, speaking, reading and writing.  

At LCUSD, there are no separate ELD classes in our elementary schools. English learners are not segregated and participate fully in general education classrooms. All teachers have special training to address English learners and they provide differentiated instruction. To augment this instruction, students in greater need of English language skills acquisition are supported by ELD teacher specialists at each site. These specialists are credentialed teachers. Too often in the past across the state, English learners were instructed by well-meaning parent volunteers with little or no formal instructional training. As volunteers, they simply could not match the expertise available from a credentialed teacher as we now provide in LCUSD. 

The federal Office of Civil Rights prohibits discrimination of language-minority students and ensures the rights of English learners to an equal opportunity to participate in all programs. The ELD teacher specialists work in concert with the general education teacher to provide supplementary instruction so that English learners take advantage of all educational opportunities. There are also well-trained paraprofessionals who work in the ELD Program under the guidance of the ELD teacher. Combined, their instruction enhances an English learner’s comprehension and English acquisition—much as tutoring does. This is often done one on one or in small groups to target specific areas for improvement based on student needs. Lessons may include sound and letter recognition, vocabulary and syntax development and/or practice in speaking, to name a few. The ELD teacher specialists provide targeted instruction not easily available in a large classroom setting. 

At LCHS, beginner to intermediate English learners have a small, unique English class (one period of the six-period school day) to concentrate on their English development. There is also a paraprofessional who assists in this small class to ensure that students are receiving individualized attention for rapid English acquisition. The highest level of English language learners, in the early advanced or advanced ranges, are fully mainstreamed into the appropriate English class for their grade level. All English learners are fully integrated into general education math, science, history, P.E. and elective courses. Just as at our elementary schools, teachers have received training on the best strategies for addressing English learners’ needs and differentiation takes place in all classrooms. If needed, the ELD paraprofessional will also lend support in core classes to assist students. Additionally, English learners at LCHS are supported by two ELD teacher leaders, one at 7/8 and one at grades 9-12, who meet with the students weekly. The ELD teacher leaders act as an important liaison between the classroom teachers and counselors to ensure English learners’ academic or social success.

Our English learners are the beneficiaries of these additional educational supports. Student performance is evaluated annually. ELD Program evaluation shows that English learners in La Canada reclassify to fluent English at a higher rate than the state averages.  Our students serve as the program’s success story when they exit from English language development. We are proud of the academic achievement the ELD Program cultivates.