Scores prompt language learning discussion

Herald Staff Writer

JASPER — Information about corporation scores on the 2013 Indiana Statewide Testing for Education Progress exams sparked a discussion among Jasper school board members and administrators about reaching out to students with poor language skills.

Greater Jasper Consolidated Schools Curriculum Director Kim Strobel informed the board members at their regular monthly meeting Monday evening that 79.7 percent of corporation students passed both the English and math sections of the state standardized test in the spring, but several grade levels at Tenth Street School failed to meet the 90 percent passing benchmark set by the state. At Tenth Street, 72 percent of students passed both sections.

Strobel explained that the unique learning needs at that school contribute to a lower pass rate.

“We have a huge Hispanic population there and many students are learning English as their second language,” she said. In 2012, about 83 Hispanic students took the ISTEP test at Tenth Street. “They have a lot of barriers that they have to work through and we have a lot of challenges.”

Board Vice President Bernie Vogler asked whether the corporation is contributing enough money and attention to English as a New Language students. Strobel responded that she has been exploring new options with elementary school teachers since she arrived at the corporation last school year.

“We’re really ... seeing what kinds of supports and restructuring we can do to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of those students and able to support them in their overall growth and success too,” she said. “I was able to go in and observe the reading block in grade three in all classrooms. As we began those discussions with the Tenth Street teachers, it was very evident that we need to have larger blocks of time devoted to what we call Tier 2 instruction, which is those students who are kind of flying under the benchmark.”

Strobel also mentioned the success of the Writers Workshop program initiated at the schools in the spring semester. The workshop encourages teaching reading and spelling through the process of writing, rather than as separate skills. Strobel said she already has heard from some teachers that ENL students have shown improvement in their writing thanks to the program.

Superintendent Tracy Lorey explained that an ENL student can require five to seven years before becoming proficient in English. To help speed the process, she reminded the board that the corporation hired a second full-time ENL teacher for this school year so both Fifth Street and Tenth Street schools would have support.

“We’re hoping by having two full-time certified ENL teachers fully devoted to the needs of the students who are acquiring English as their second language that we’ll be able to give more attention to the kind of skill development that will bleed over to the academic content areas as well,” Lorey said.

Lorey also said that administrators and staff have been discussing the option of additional early learning opportunities for those who lack reading skills.

“We could get into some preschool learning opportunities for 4-year-old students who would not necessarily have that opportunity on their own and then be able to provide them some of those really enriched early learning experiences that will help them bridge the gap before we enter them into a very academic kindergarten where the expectations are so much more rigorous than they used to be,” she said.

However, there are multiple obstacles to creating those programs.

“Funding is always an issue. Transportation is always an issue. Do we have adequate spaces to allow them to do that and make sure that it meets whatever those requirements would be?” Lorey said. “Those are certainly conversations that we have begun toying with.”

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