Welcome to Spanish Week: The promise of dual language education

Posted by freemexy on November 12th, 2019

The sign on the door of Claudia Sanchez’s fourth grade class at Mesquite Elementary says “Welcome to Spanish Week.”The plastic-covered sheet signals to students that this week they’re learning math, science, reading and other subjects in Spanish.It also signals that this isn’t your typical bilingual classroom. bilingual teacher qualification This is one of Gadsden Independent School District’s dual language immersion classrooms, where students spend half their time in Spanish and the other half in English, and where the goal is not just to become fluent in English, but to become biliterate.
In other words, to read, write, listen and speak in two languages. Gadsden’s bilingual programs have won praise for their consistency and strategic use of data to help their students succeed where others struggle. Of the district’s 16 elementary schools, 12 have earned A’s or B’s from the Public Education Department. That’s more impressive when you consider that nearly 40% of its students are learning English, compared with 14% of students statewide — and the overwhelming majority of its students are low income. Low income students and English learners are two categories of students that the judge in a landmark 2018 judicial decision, Yazzie/Martinez v. State of New Mexico, excoriated the state for failing to adequately educate.
According to a 2018 report from the Public Education Department, Gadsden has led the state in student improvement in math proficiency on the state’s standardized test since 2015. Its third grade students outperformed the statewide average in both math and English language arts. While Gadsden has erased the achievement gap for its at-risk students, what is also true is that overall educational achievement in New Mexico is dismal.
Despite outpacing New Mexico third-graders in the statewide PARCC exam, only 38% of Gadsden third-graders were deemed proficient in math and 36% proficient in English language arts in 2018. And New Mexico this year was again ranked last in education in the United States. Advocates say what can help to improve those statistics is education that brings the brain-building advantages of bilingualism to all children by leveraging Spanish and New Mexico’s other heritage languages, including several native ones.
 “Our bilingual programs are not just for English learners, they’re for all of our students. That’s something that’s unique to our state,” said Mayra Valtierrez, director of the Language and Culture Bureau at PED. She said PED’s goal is for all New Mexico students to become bilingual and biliterate.Given its success, how Gadsden educates English learners in its dual language program could point the way forward for other New Mexico schools grappling with how to reach that goal.

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