Language-test numbers fail to keep pace with state

San Francisco students learning English are holding steady when it comes to achieving fluency — while peers statewide are showing gains, according to data released Wednesday by the California Department of Education.

Students who understand little or no English, called English learners, take the California English Language Development Test yearly to keep tabs on how close to fluency they are.

CELDT is a crucial part of making sure students are placed in the right classes so they can make progress, according to Anita Lau, director of multilingual programs for the San Francisco Unified School District, where roughly 29.5 percent of students are English learners.

“At the very beginning, we focus on oral and listening skills — real basics,” Lau said. “They’re not placed based on grade level, but on CELDT level.”

As students get more comfortable with English, they take grade-level classes in their primary language until their CELDT scores approach the “advanced” scale, at which point they can become eligible to be reclassified as fluent, Lau said.

San Francisco’s CELDT scores have held steady despite a fluctuating population of immigrants and English learners, according to Peter Long, program manager in the district’s office of assessment.

Last year, the English learner population dropped by 768 students, but this year it jumped by 779 — despite an ongoing drop in enrollment, Lau said.

In addition to properly placing students, CELDT scores are used to measure students’ progress toward fluency over time — and that’s where San Francisco really shines, according to Long.

For example, California requires districts to show that 50.1 percent of students moved up a category on CELDT this year. In San Francisco, 55.6 percent made the jump, Long said.

“We’ve always met and surpassed our targets,” Long said. “English learners are a priority in this district, and I feel the schools do a good job overall with them.”

bwinegarner@examiner.com

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