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On Oct. 9, Stacy Beardsley, District 65’s Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, presented a report to the School Board laying out the need to expand the Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program at the K-5 grade levels and identifying proposed criteria to use in selecting a school or schools at which to locate the new TWI strands.

The Two-Way Immersion (TWI) program serves students in grades K-5 at Dawes, Dewey, Oakton, Washington, and Willard schools. Each of these schools has one K-5 strand of TWI, except Washington, which has two strands of TWI. A TWI “strand” is one class of TWI at the kindergarten through fifth-grade levels.

The TWI program exists first and foremost to serve Spanish-speaking English Language Learners (ELLs). Ideally, TWI classes should be comprised of 50% Spanish-speaking ELLs and 50% English-speaking students. In District 65, Spanish-speaking ELLs have a right to participate. English-speaking students are given the option to apply, and they are selected based on criteria in the Board’s policies and a lottery. 

At the lower grade levels, classes are taught in Spanish a higher percentage of the time. For example in kindergarten, students are taught 90% of the time in Spanish. As students move up in grade level, a larger percentage of the class is taught in English.

District 65 is required by State law to provide English language learning to Spanish-speaking ELLs.

The goals of the TWI program include academic achievement for all students, high levels of bilingualism and biliteracy in both English and Spanish, and increased cultural competence.

At the Oct. 9 meeting, administrators did not recommend a specific school or schools at which to locate the new TWI strands. They are scheduled to do so at the Board’s Nov. 6 meeting.

Ms. Beardsley said administrators would not recommend taking any existing TWI strand from a school in which it was currently located.

Superintendent Paul Goren said the new strands would be implemented on a phased-in basis. For example, the District could  implement TWI classes at kindergarten or at kindergarten and first grades in 2018-19, and then expand the program to higher grade levels on a year-by-year basis.  

Reasons for the Expansion

Dr. Beardsley said TWI is the “most effective program model” for educating Spanish-speaking ELLs. She gave four reasons to expand the program.

First, she said, the number of Spanish-speaking ELLs enrolled in kindergarten has expanded from 60 to 84 students in the last 10 years. During that time the number of TWI strands has not increased. As the number of Spanish-speaking ELLs increase, there are fewer slots for English-speaking students.

While the program is designed to have a 50/50 split between Spanish-speaking and English-speaking students, the split is now  65/35.

The split is worse in several schools. At Dawes, the split is 78/22. At Willard, it is 74/26.

Two more strands are necessary to accommodate this growth in Spanish-speaking ELLs and to bring the TWI classes back to a 50/50 split, said Dr. Beardsley.

“If we don’t expand, we would be in a position where ultimately we would need to eliminate TWI and move to a single-language support model.”

Second, “there is both strong support and increased demand for TWI among parents in our community,” said Dr. Beardsley.

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

Dr. Beardsley also said administrators surveyed nearly 100 parents who had 4-year old children currently attending preschool at District 65, targeting Spanish-speaking and African American parents. The majority expressed a high level of 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,” she said.

Third, Dr. Beardsley said TWI has been effective in teaching Spanish-speaking ELLs. These students are achieving English proficiency “at the same rates” as Spanish-speaking ELLs who are in English-only programs (those who waive participating in an English-language learning program), even though they are spending 50% or more of their school day receiving instruction in Spanish. Once they have reached English proficiency, former ELLs in the TWI program tend to outperform former ELLs who did not participate in TWI, particularly when controlling for socio-economic status, she said.

When assessing achievement using the MAP test, the results of former TWI ELLs and non-TWI ELLs are mixed at the sixth and eighth-grade levels, when the percentage of students scoring above the 40th percentile is the benchmark.

Dr. Beardsley added that students in the TWI program are showing a positive trend in their literacy development of both English and Spanish, using a “biliteracy zone” model.

Fourth, the goals of the TWI program are directly aligned with the District’s commitment to equity, said Dr. Beardsley. In addition, she said expansion of the program will increase access for African American students, who are currently underrepresented in the program, by opening up additional seats for English-speaking students. Research shows that dual language programs have potential to reverse the achievement gap, says her report.

Proposed Criteria to Use in Selecting a Site

In addition to conducting a survey of parents, the District held three community conversations on Sept. 12, 13, and 19, to gather input on what the District should consider in evaluating sites for expanding TWI, among other things.

Administrators used the input and identified six criteria that Dr. Beardsley said were the most significant and should be given the most weight in selecting a site.

First,  she said, it would be ideal to have two or more strands of TWI at a school, and to avoid having only one strand of non-TWI classes at a school.

 “We’re seeing a strong message that having a single TWI strand at a school is not as beneficial as having two strands. … We don’t want to create a system where we’re adding another single strand, without the possibility of having a second strand to go with it,” said Ms. Beardsley.

Second, the average monolingual (non-TWI) average class size is significant. If a TWI strand is put into a school, it will replace an English-only strand. About half the English-speaking students may be placed in the new TWI strand, and about half will be “displaced,” said Dr. Beardsley. “We are preferring schools that have a low monolingual class size because it means that if students are displaced by having a TWI strand, there’s a possibility to absorb those students in other classrooms in that building without overly impacting class size or moving past our class size guidelines.”

Dr. Beardsley added that administrators will also analyze how many students are moving into and out of schools through permissive transfers or magnet school applications, and determine if there is a possibility to create space in a given school by managing permissive transfers or magnet school applications.

Third, Dr. Beardsley said administrators are determining how many Spanish-speaking ELLs live in the attendance areas of four neighborhood schools. “If we put a school in an area where we already have a diversity of native Spanish-speakers, then that allows them to access the program in their own school and avoid busing to another location.

“Preference should be given for schools that have greater number of native Spanish-speaking ELLs in their attendance boundary,” said Dr. Beardsley.   

The fourth criteria is to assess how enrollment at particular schools is expected to grow in the next five years. “If enrollment is expected to grow, that would not be a potentially good place to put a TWI program, unless your average monolingual class sizes are still quite low,” she said.

The fifth criteria looks at school culture and collective responsiveness, and whether the school community is  willing to work together for the benefit of all students.

Sixth, “We want to take a look at the last five years of data” and determine which schools have “the highest levels of success,” said Dr. Beardsley.

Possible Configurations

Ms. Beardsley presented four possible scenarios to add two TWI strands:

  • Adding one TWI strand at a school with no existing TWI strands,
  • Adding one to two TWI strand(s) at a school with an existing TWI strand,
  • Adding two or more TWI strands at a neighborhood school with no existing TWI strands,
  • Adding two or more TWI strands at a magnet school with no existing TWI strands.

In explaining the pros and cons of each scenario, Dr. Beardsley laid out some additional considerations.  

She said most schools can replace a monolingual strand with a TWI strand while still being able to maintain class sizes within class size guidelines. 

If a school had a total of three strands (including both TWI and non-TWI strands), putting two strands of TWI in that school would not be ideal, because it would make the non-TWI strand a single strand and create isolation for that group. The issue of isolation  could be addressed by adding two TWI strands at schools that have an existing TWI stand to make a TWI school, Ms. Beardsley said.

Adding a strand where there was an existing program would “build on the strength of existing teachers and existing programs,” and maximize the assignment of bilingual specialists. 

“Regardless of the location selected, there will be strong arguments for the site and there will be arguments against the site,” said Ms. Beardsley. “The important thing to remember is that expanding TWI is in the best interest of our students and it is a valued program in the District. The short term challenges will need to be worked through in order to ultimately address the needs of our native Spanish speakers in a manner that is equitable and just.” 

Board Comments

Board President Suni Kartha said, “This is an incredibly complicated decision. This is something that ultimately is a benefit for our District as a whole and the school community that is ultimately selected, but there will be some change management and growing pains that are going to be associated with that.”

Board members seemed to concur with the criteria proposed by administrators, but they added a few criteria and asked administrators to conduct some additional outreach to black and Latino families.

More Complexity Added to the Pot

Board member Candance Chow said, “I believe it’s absolutely critical we don’t have a single strand in a school. That’s more important for the TWI side, but it’s also important on the monolingual side.” She said she would “strongly advocate for a site where we don’t end up with a single strand.”

In practical terms, if the Board decides not to covert a neighborhood school into a TWI school, that may limit the choice of schools to those which have a total of four strands (including TWI and non-TWI strands). Ms. Beardsley said there were five: Dewey, Lincoln, Oakton, Washington, and Willard.

Alternatively, a school that has a total of three strands could be turned into a TWI school. Ms. Chow floated the idea of establishing a “robust bilingual school,” which she said could lead to a TWI school, but added she still had busing concerns.

Ms. Chow added, “I believe one of our core values is still neighborhood schools and we have a core value of magnet schools. I’m proffering a particular point of view about having a program that would be an all TWI school. I still have a core value of having neighborhood schools and giving people a neighborhood option.

“I don’t think the elimination of a neighborhood school is the right answer.”

Ms. Kartha said the Board should take into account how many students would have to be bused to the new TWI strands, and if the busing would disproportionately impact black or Latino students. In addition, she said, if the recommendation is to convert a neighborhood school into a TWI school, the Board should keep in mind that the District has “historically marginalized populations who have been displaced out of their neighborhood schools.”

Ms. Kartha added that the administration should provide data showing the number of both Spanish-speaking ELL students and black students in the attendance area(s) of the proposed school or schools.  

Rebeca Mendoza asked the District to obtain demographic information from the City by geographic area and to use that in its analysis.

Ms. Chow said, “We do need to overlay where folks live.”

While not discussed, if TWI strands are placed in a middle school, it could have an impact on the District’s ability to manage overcrowding in the neighborhood schools by managing enrollment in the magnet schools.

Align with a Plan to Expand to Middle Schools

Board member Joey Hailpern asked about implementing an expansion of TWI to the middle schools at the same time as the expansion in the K-5 grade levels.

Dr. Beardsley said she would like to have a discussion about expanding the program to the middle schools, but first, she said, it was necessary to expand and make sure TWI was operating with fidelity in the K-5 grade levels, and then take up the discussion about expanding the TWI program to the middle schools.

Ms. Mendoza said if the new TWI strands were located in one of the magnet schools, it would provide an opportunity to expand TWI to the middle schools.

Ms. Chow suggested the Board keep in mind a desire to expand the program to the middle schools as part of the site selection process.

More Outreach

Sergio Hernandez, Anya Tanyavutti, and Rebecca Mendoza asked administrators to conduct additional outreach to black and Latino families to obtain additional input, and to find out if there were impediments to black families’ participating.

Ms. Tanyavutti also asked that the Board consider the criteria used in deciding whether to admit English-speaking students into the TWI program. It is expected that the Board’s Policy Committee will consider this issue.

Next Steps

The Board will discuss the administration’s recommended site for the new TWI strands on Nov. 6 and 20, and vote on Dec. 4. This would enable the District to establish the new TWI strands at the start of the 2018-19 school year.