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On June 5, Lauren Leitao, Bilingual Director of School District 65, advised the Board it is necessary to expand the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program at the K-5 grade levels. “In order to offer the TWI program with fidelity, the District needs to add two strands of TWI,” said Ms. Leitao’s memo to the Board.

“This will be a phased approach, with one school – hopefully two strands – being added in the 2018-19 school year, then further expanding in following years (either additional strands, or middle school programming, depending upon priorities set by the Superintendent).”

Administrators plan to present a recommendation in the fall, with a plan to expand TWI starting in the 2017-18 school year.

Reasons for the Expansion

Ms. Leitao said, “TWI is the most effective model for teaching English Language Learners.” She gave four reasons to expand the program.

First, the number of Spanish-speaking English learners (TWS) in kindergarten has expanded from 60 to 84 in the last 10 years. During the same period, the number of TWS and former TWS has expanded from 336 to 461 students.

While the program is designed to have a 50%/50% split between TWS and English speaking students  (TWE), the split now overall is 65%/35%. At Dawes, the split is 78%/22%, at Willard it is 74%/26%, and at Oakton, 67%/33%.

More strands are necessary to accommodate this growth and to bring the TWI classes back to a 50%/50% split, said Ms. Leitao.

Second, “there’s an increased demand for this program in our community,” said Ms. Leitao. “Parents value the opportunity to have their children develop a second language.”

In 2016-17, 140 TWE students applied to enter the program, and only 45 students, or 32%, were placed in the TWI program. This was down from a 46% acceptance rate in 2012-13.

Ms. Leitao also said administrators surveyed nearly 100 parents, targeting Spanish-speaking and African American parents, and the majority expressed an interest in the program. “Most expressed interest in TWI as a K-8 program, followed by nearly equal levels of interest of support for TWI being offered in a magnet school and a neighborhood school.

Third, Ms. Leitao said TWI has been effective in teaching TWS students English. The District’s 2016 Achievement and Accountability Report shows that former Spanish-speaking English learners who did not take TWI did slightly better than former TWS students as eighth-graders on the MAP reading test. TWS students showed high proficiency, though, when their performance is assessed in a “biliteracy zone” model, she said.

Fourth, the TWI program reflects the District’s commitment to equity, said Ms. Leitao. The program, however, has a disproportionately low number of African American students. Ms. Leitao’s memo says this is due to offering only one strand of TWI at four schools, the lack of outreach to the black community, and policy barriers, which Peter Godard, Director of Research, Assessment, and Data, said related to giving a sibling preference and a neighborhood preference in admitting TWE students to the program.

In addition, Ms. Leitao said feedback indicates that teachers and students tend to feel isolated in schools that have only one strand at a school, which is the case at Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, and Willard. “This feedback suggests that District 65 should prioritize placing multiple strands of TWI within a school, as is the case at Washington. When two or more strands of TWI can be placed within one school, TWI students and staff are more likely to have equitable access to resources and supports, both human and material, that are culturally, linguistically, and instructionally appropriate for the TWI context,” said Ms. Leitao. “The TWI program is likely to flourish and succeed when resources are allocated more equitably.”

Ms. Leitao said the District will convene a planning team through the summer, schedule community forums to gather further input on the TWI expansion over the summer, and engage teachers and collaborate with the District’s Bilingual Parent Advisory Committee.

Board Comments

Board members did not discuss the proposal, but were asked to list the type of information they would like to have to evaluate the administration’s recommendation in the fall.

Sergio Hernandez said he would like to see information about how stakeholders were engaged in the process, adding, “Obviously it’s going to have an impact on the General Education classrooms.”

Candance Chow asked if stakeholders would be engaged before or after the recommendation was made.

Assistant Superintendent John Price said administrators would like to gather feedback on whether the expansion should be at a neighborhood versus a magnet school, or a K-5 school versus a K-8 school. He said they would also like to gather input on how to enroll more African American families in the program. “It’s going to be a difficult decision,” he said.

Ms. Chow said she would like the recommendation to list the options that were considered, and why each option was either selected or rejected.

Joseph Hailpern said he would like to see “the range of thought and what’s the ideal if you could have anything you want to do, and what’s the recommendation within the constraints that you are dealing with from the pie in the sky and, of course, what’s the dollar amount.”

Anya Tanyavutti said, “I would be curious to see what it would look like to add strands to places where strands already exist in order to build opportunities for community and connections for students as well as teachers and parents.”

She said she would also like to see information on how the expansion would affect the culture and climate in the school buildings, and what the barriers are to black families finding out about the program and being able to access it.

Suni Kartha said she would like to know what additional steps the District would take to attract more black students to the TWI program, and how any proposed location of the new strands fit in with the population the program is intended to serve.