November 20, 2009

Shutting down rural WA’s bilingual education

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Washington’s Wapato School District eliminated all of its dual-language classes last month, despite the fact that 67 percent of its students are Latino and in spite of evidence within the school district that bilingual education helped kids score higher on standardized tests.

The Yakima Herald-Republic’s Phil Ferolito interviewed Wapato school board officials who say they stand behind the change because they want to focus on student performance on standardized tests.  However, the students enrolled at the district elementary school that still held dual-language classes last year outperformed the students at the district’s two other schools whose instructors were told to throw away their Spanish teaching materials.

Those results are confirmed by national studies that show elementary students who become bilingual begin to outperform other students by the seventh grade.

When I visited the Yakima Valley in 2006 to interview Yakima Public Schools Superintendent Ben Soria, he used test scores to show that five years spent investing in bilingual education had paid off for that district’s school kids.  At the time, I wrote, “As the district’s non-English-speaking population explodes, the number of fourth-graders meeting the state reading standard has risen sharply — from 40 percent in 2000 to 66 percent last year.”

Many disgruntled students, parents and teachers in the Wapato School District say that the politics of paying for Spanish-language instruction trumped the actual results; schoolboard members are sticking by their standardized test story.

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