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During the discussion on the Report on Hispanic Student Achievement (“Report”) on Jan. 23, Lauren Leitao, Bilingual Coordinator, said there was a need to expand the Two Way Immersion (TWI) program in the K-5 grade levels and to intensify bilingual supports at the middle school levels, and possibly to expand the TWI program to the middle schools.

Ms. Leitao said the Report shows that “the bilingual programs have  been effective and  that they’re narrowing the gap for our English learners and our former English learners, narrowing but not closing. I think it’s promising that the majority of our students who have participated in a program are able to go into high school and take a variety of course offerings, but certainly when you look at the college readiness benchmarks there are some concerns and room for improvement.”

 TWI Program at K-5 Grade Levels

Ms. Leitao said in light of the increased number of Hispanic students and the number of students eligible for bilingual services, there is a “need to expand the TWI program and add some additional strands.”

She said while there is room for improvement in the program, “I think there’s a lot of evidence in the Report that the program is effective. Just based on the demographic need and the efficacy off the program, I think this is something we really need to move forward with in our District.”

The Report reflects there are currently 683 Hispanic students in the District who are English learners. There are currently a total of 36 TWI classrooms at five different schools: Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, Washington and Willard.

Board member Tracy Quattrocki referred to data in the Report that showed that Hispanic eighth-graders who were English learners but who did not  participate in the TWI program did better on the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) test than TWI students. Specifically, higher percentages of the non-TWI group scored above the 40th percentile and above college readiness  benchmarks than TWI students.

Ms. Quattrocki said the data is “confusing and mixed” where some of the English learners were doing better when they were not in TWI than in TWI. “I think we really need to see how those kids did through high school to see if the foundation is stronger for TWI and therefore the achievement levels are higher by the time they graduate. But just looking at the data, I wouldn’t be convinced we need to double down on TWI.”

Peter Godard, Director of Research, Assessment and Data, said, “I think it would be really nice to do the high school analysis.” He added, though, “The national research compares a lot of different bilingual program models and the conclusion of that research, which tracks through high school, shows that the dual-language approach has a much greater effect on student learning over time.”

He added that a second part of the analysis would require determining whether the District is “implementing the program in the way it was designed.”

Mr. Godard noted that the TWI model contemplates, among other things, classes will have 50% English learners and 50% who are not English learners.

Ms. Quattocki said, “Before we expand, I think that would be critical to know whether there’s fidelity in the way we’re implementing it and whether in fact our local model is reflecting the same gains that are being seen nationally.

“We’re coming to a critical point in how we expand our offering and I would want as a Board and as an administration to be certain that we are moving in the right direction.”

John Price, Assistant Superintendent of Schools, said, “The data shows significant growth in English language; it does show Spanish language acquisition, which is truly a value added for our TWI students that’s not represented here.”

Ms. Quattrocki said, “When you try to assess the success of the program when we’re looking at a junior in high school, are we more interested in seeing their overall achievement in English on those English assessment tests or are we still talking about bilingual capacity? I think we need to define our goal here.”

Several people said “both.”

Ms. Leitao said, “I think what the research will tell us is those two goals aren’t mutually exclusive, and that they really reinforce the other, but I think when we come back to program expansions of TWI, we can include a more in-depth analysis of the program.”

Board member Anya Tanyavutti asked, “Can we analyze whether the children are experiencing gains in social and emotional learning by participating in a culturally relevant program?”

Superintendent Paul Goren said he would love to be able to do that, but questioned whether it would be possible to do so.

Expanding TWI to Middle School

The Report shows that the percentage of Hispanic students meeting college readiness benchmarks in math is significantly less in eighth grade than in fifth and sixth grades for both current and former English learners.  In reading, the percentage of former English learners is significantly less in eighth grade than in fifth grade.

The Report says, “This is a clear signal to District 65 leadership that Hispanic English language learners require support at this transition point in their careers.”

 “As we look at the differences between fifth grade and eighth  grade performance, we really need to look at the fifth and sixth grade transition,” said Ms. Leitao. One aspect is to  make sure students have all the supports in place when they enter middle school. “But I think it’s also worth beginning to explore intensifying the supports that we offer for English-learners and former English-learners in the middle grades,” she said.

 Ms. Leitao there’s a big difference between the bilingual services that fifth and sixth graders receive. Fifth graders in the TWI program are with a bilingual teacher all day and receive half of their instruction in Spanish. In sixth grade, the students may be fully mainstreamed or supported through a co-teaching model and receive only 42 minutes a day of instruction in Spanish.

“There are a couple of things we could look at,” said Ms. Leitao. “One is just really intensifying the bilingual services that we offer for middle school English learners.” She noted, though, that at almost all of the meetings with parents on the advisory committee, “the topic of TWI in the middle school has come up.”

 Ms. Leitao, said, “We don’t have a formal proposal in place for that at this time, but it is something if we really want to talk about the supports that students need to sustain them through the rest of the middle school and then through high school, that may be a topic that we need to explore in the future.”

A ‘Bileteracy Zone Model

Loren Leitao, Bilingual Coordinator, said a new way to analyze the literacy skills of bilingual students, such as those in the TWI program, is to use a “biliteracy zone model” (BLZ) developed by researchers at the University of Colorado at Denver. Under this model, bilingual students take both a literacy test in English (a DRA) and a literacy test in Spanish (the EDL),  and the BLZ “looks at comparing students’ scores across their two languages to see how they’re developing literacy.” The theory is that students who are learning to read in two languages should not be measured against non-bilingual norms. Under this approach, 74% of second-grade Spanish-speaking TWI students met EDL or DRA or BLZ benchmarks for proficiency, compared to 64% who met EDL or DRA benchmarks for proficiency. Loren said using the BZM gives a more holistic view. “It’s something we could extend and expand and would give a richer picture of how students are faring.”

Larry Gavin

Larry Gavin was a co-founder of the Evanston RoundTable in 1998 and assisted in its conversion to a non-profit in 2021. He has received many journalism awards for his articles on education, housing and...