District 65 Board of Education Meeting Monday night.

Those who master English as a second language do better on some standardized achievement tests than do those who have spoken English for their whole lives.

Those results from Evanston/Skokie District 65 were presented to the Board of Education Monday night, as part of a discussion of multilingual education.

Amy Correa, the district’s multilingual program director, reported on standardized MAP tests for the current school year.

Correa said former English Learners (EL) who have become fluent in English “have the highest percentage of students at or above the 50th percentile in both mathematics and reading,” with 70 and 79 percent respectively.

“General Education monolingual students,” those who grew up with English as their primary language, scored slightly lower, 69 and 75 percent.

Students who were still English Learners had only 20 to 32 percent of test takers above the 50th percentile, depending on where they were learning a new language.

It can take awhile to move from EL to English fluency, five-to-seven years, according to Correa.

As to why students who start with one language and then master English perform better on standardized tests, Correa said it appears that “language proficiency is an important factor in academic performance.”

Board president Sergio Hernandez suggested the higher peformance is “because we have to use more of our brains,” mastering English, plus the student’s original language, and academic classes all at the same time.

More than 70 languages are spoken by students in District 65, with Spanish far and away the most common (about two thirds of international language speakers).

While the number of English Learners has stayed about the same in recent years, at about 1,100, Correa noted that with overall district enrollment declining, the percentage of EL students in District 65 has jumped from 9.5% in 2014 to 17% now.

Despite the success former English Learners achieve once they become fluent, Correa said there are still many EL students who struggle with English. She said a number of programs will be implemented to better work with those children and their families.

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  1. It’s not clear in the article, but I assume these English language learners with high test scores have gone through the TWI program. Based on my years of experience as a parent in District 65, I believe this difference is due to the TWI teachers teaching in a more “old-fashioned” way, giving some (any?) homework in grades 3-5, and, most importantly, holding students to a far higher academic and behavioral standard than General Education teachers do. Students know that TWI teachers do not tolerate unruly behavior or lack of effort. The TWI teachers have high expectations even though many of their Spanish-speaking students have parents who don’t have much formal schooling and aren’t fluent in English.

    Has District 65 compared test scores of English language learners from TWI against those of English language learners who were always in General Ed classes? How about test scores of English speakers in TWI vs. General Ed classes? Same results?

    Bugger picture, if the school board thinks that learning a second language is important for academic development, why does District 65’s current K-8 curriculum not begin instruction in a second language until SEVENTH grade? School districts in Wilmette, Northbrook, Glenview, and other nearby towns start teaching Spanish to all students by third grade. Considering the large Latino population in our city and schools, teaching Spanish to all students could contribute to both academics and diversity and inclusion.

    1. I agree that we should be teaching a second language, presumably Spanish, at an early age. Ideally it could start as soon as Kindergarten or first grade when the kids still retain some of their natural ability to learn language. I don’t know why we don’t do this.

  2. Not surprising, since the ESL students learn proper grammar and vocabulary. When I took high school Spanish (years ago), some students who came from first-generation Hispanic families sometimes struggled because of having to learn either proper Spanish grammar or proper vocabulary, rather than learning in the dialect that their parents spoke. How many of us who were born and raised in the U.S. dreaded the nuns in our English class? My dad spoke the Italian that he learned form his parents and grandparents (who came from a small town in Bari), but when he tried to show off by speaking Italian to a visitor from Italy, she laughed.

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