Support For ELD Students Should Be Improved

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Over the last few years, the MVLA district has been combining the district’s English Language Development (ELD) program at Mountain View High School (MVHS), leaving LAHS students to move to the other site or stay at LAHS without a program. This change has led to opposition from some teachers and community members because they feel this often underserved population deserves an ELD program at their home school. While combining the programs to be more efficient is a laudable goal, its implementation has taken away an important support network for the many students left at LAHS.

Administrators decided to move students to a single site to save funds. Having two smaller programs was more expensive for the district because many classes weren’t filled to capacity. According to Assistant Superintendent Steve Hope, the move allowed the district to offer seven fewer sections, or periods, of ELD.

Not only is moving ELD students to Mountain View cost efficient, it is also good for the students who make the move. When there were two programs, there weren’t enough students to offer classes specific to each of their grade level. Students of different grades had to be combined into common classes. For example, all EL students at a certain level might have had to take the same history class, regardless of what grade they were in. By putting students in one program, students are able to be in more appropriate classes with more relevant material.

However, while the consolidated program is the best option, many students are unable to participate in it. According to data from the California Department of Education, there were 142 EL students at the school in 2009, the last year the school had a full program. According to Principal Wynne Satterwhite, there are currently about 78 EL students at the school. The reasons why so many students chose to stay vary. Some don’t have transportation to MVHS, while others have older siblings who have already attended LAHS.

The school does provide assistance to students who stay here, even if there isn’t an official program. This support includes skills classes to supplement their English classes, homework club after school and extra help from teachers. These support services are labeled as “other services” when reporting to the state, as they don’t qualify as ELD services. However, this year the district was informed that this coding wasn’t sufficient and students must receive services commensurate with their ELD designation.

Administrators respond by saying that the state isn’t able to see the support these students receive, but only the “other services” label, and therefore believes the student’s EL status isn’t being addressed.

While it is true that the state has limited information, in this case they are correct that the school does need to provide more services for these students. However, it shouldn’t just be a matter of meeting state requirements; the school should better provide for the students who choose to stay at LAHS.

Among others, former ELD teacher Arantxa Arriada summed up this view by explaining that EL students, regardless of their level, used to have a separate curriculum from regular English classes. While support classes certainly help students, they only supplement the regular classes, which are difficult without a firm grasp of the language. Additionally, there are only skills classes for Survey and World Literature, so upperclassmen are left to take on English alone.

Next year, the district will have to decide how to comply with the state and fully support students. The key to making the right decision lies in getting perspectives from as many parties as possible and remembering that the end goal needs to be providing students with the best education possible, not just meeting state regulations. Teachers, students and parents involved in the program should all be a part of the decision.

One of the options is to offer Specially Designed Academic Instruction in English (SDAIE) classes, which while using a traditional curriculum, provide a more structured setting for students who need additional help. Also, the district could choose to provide a transitional class before Survey, to give students another year before beginning mainstreamed high school English. Finally, they could choose to extend the skills classes offered to students, so juniors and seniors can get additional support.

While none of these options are as good as a full ELD program, they are the best solution given that some students are unwilling or unable to move to MVHS. The consolidated program does provide a better experience for the students who are able to participate, but the structure in place for students who decide to stay needs to be rethought and improved to support students throughout all of high school.