Aid needed in journey to English proficiency

Nearly half of the kindergartners who are also English-language learners at Belle Air Elementary School will requireextra help in understanding the sometimes-complicated language of elementary-school academia.

Official test results for the Comprehensive English Language Test, or CELT, administered to students learning English as a second language to test their skill levels, won’t be available until later this year or in early 2008, Belle Air Principal Marcela Miranda said. But in order to divide the students into the proper groups for extra help — there will be 17 groups, one for each nonkindergarten teacher — the school is compiling unofficial scores, she said.

This week, school officials are sorting through the first-grade scores.

Of the 72 total kindergartners at Belle Air, 42 took the test, according to school figures. Three who were supposed to take the test were absent that day.

Of the 42, 20 will be placed in the beginners group, where students with the most tenuous grasp of grammar and vocabulary will be placed. Thirteen were placed a level above in “early intermediate,” eight were put in “intermediate” and one made it to early advanced level, meaning that student could be placed in a work group above his or her grade, Miranda said.

“Most [in the beginning group] have only spoken Spanish, with many of them only understanding one-word sentences and simple phrases,” Miranda said, noting that the school has historically had many English language learners.

The Academic Language Development program, now in its second year, has been successful in pinpointing language strengths and weaknesses, Superintendent David Hutt said. Academic language in textbooks, even in elementary schools, can end up leaving some children behind if they don’t properly grasp the nuances of the language.

“We’re always looking for ways to bring kids up to speed,” Hutt said.

Belle Air Elementary, a K-6 school in the Belle Air neighborhood, serves the largest number of elementary school students— approximately 423 — out of all seven schools in the district. Hutt said the district may consider using the program at one of its other elementary schools after further evaluation.

tramroop@examiner.com

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