A language-learning hat trick | VailDaily.com

A language-learning hat trick

Jessica Martinez is director of English language learner programs for the Eagle County school district. Through the work of Martinez and her team, the Eagle County school district is one of only 12 of Colorado's 178 school districts that met federal criteria for proficiency among English language learners.
Special to the Daily |

EAGLE — The local school district is one of only 12 in Colorado to reach all three federally mandated performance goals for English language learners.

The objectives measure whether English language learners are progressing toward proficiency. Eagle County’s schools are among the 6 percent of Colorado’s 178 school districts to hit those marks.

“This is very good news for our families with students who are learning English,” said Jason Glass, superintendent of local schools. “And it speaks highly of our program to help these students gain English proficiency, ranking us alongside Aspen and Cherry Creek.”

The annual measurable achievement objectives are three performance categories, each divided by elementary, middle and high schools. They’re designed to measure how well non-native English speaking students are acquiring English, advancing academically and moving toward high school graduation.

In Eagle County, it’s a big question.

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At 34.9 percent, local schools have one of Colorado’s highest populations of English Learners. Pitkin County’s percentage is 9.9 percent. Colorado’s state average is 14.4 percent.

Title III of the No Child Left Behind Act is designed to help ensure that limited English proficient children, including immigrant children and youth, attain English language proficiency and meet the same academic content and achievement standards that all children are expected to meet.

Another unfunded mandate

Even with its local success, the program remains yet another unfunded state and federal mandate inflicted upon local schools. According to the measure’s language, it doesn’t reward success but only penalizes failure by taking the grant money away when schools fall short, as most do. But even when schools meet the criteria, federal funding isn’t enough to offset the costs.

There are two sources of annual funding that funnel $430,000 to Eagle County Schools: $180,000 from the federal government and

“As a community, we want and need all students to be college and career ready by the time they leave high school.”

Jason Glass

Eagle County Schools superintendent

$250,000 from the state. However, that doesn’t come close to covering the $1,892,878.89 the Eagle County school district spends each year on the state and federally mandated programs, according to the school district’s financial data. Also, that funding is only for first year students in the language program. However, schools are required to serve the students’ language needs year after year.

Education, though, is about more than the money, said Dan Dougherty, the school district’s communications director.

“We believe in and are committed to serving the educational and language needs of all of our students, and with one-third of our Latino population being English language learners, we fully and happily embrace the noble cause of helping them succeed,” Dougherty said.

The school district’s Jessica Martinez was honored as Colorado’s English Language Learner Director of the Year for her work on this issue.

“That should speak for itself, but we’re also tailoring instruction everywhere you look to remove barriers to learning and meet kids where their needs are. We are driven to serve to the best of our ability in spite of inadequate funding,” Dougherty said.

Success begets success

Martinez helped lead a statewide project that identifies successful ELA programs in districts that show high growth. The object is to replicate them around Colorado, Martinez said.

Across the state, 17 districts participated in the project. Of those, seven were in the high-growth category. Eagle County Schools has one of the largest percentages of English language learners in that high-growth category.

Glass said he’s happy with the results so far but says the district has a long way to go before it feels like it is motivating and engaging its English language learners in ways that help them realize their full potential.

“As a community, we want and need all students to be college and career ready by the time they leave high school. Those who aren’t ready become underemployed, need more public assistance and struggle as adults. Meeting these objectives means we’re on the right track, which is better than most districts, but we still have some traveling to do,” Glass said.

Staff Writer Randy Wyrick can be reached at 970-748-2935 and rwyrick@vaildaily.com.

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