Bilingual, bi-literate and flexible in their learning, students at Puesta del Sol Elementary School succeeded on the Smarter Balanced Assessment last spring, performing well above the state average. The percentage of students proficient in English language arts and mathematics ranged from 82-92 percent. This was the first time the test was administered statewide.
“It was challenging, but our students and our teachers stepped up and met that challenge head on,” said Principal Jonathan Shearer.
Third grade teacher Jane Perez said that although third graders begin the year with having had no formal English language instruction in K-2, they don’t balk at taking a reading test in English during the first month of the school. “The kids can move between the two languages so seamlessly,” she said.
Shearer was happy with student’s results on the state assessment. Although third graders only had two trimesters of English language instruction when the test was administered, students were able to apply the skills and knowledge they learned in Spanish to the test given in English.
“I think that the skills that were critical for success were skimming for information, supporting answers with evidence from the text and then just using those higher level thinking skills,” said Perez. “They also needed to use their writing skills with an introduction, a body, with supporting details and a strong conclusion. These have all been things we’ve practiced in Spanish, so they are able to transfer the skill into their English test.”
For example, prior to third grade, students learn the concept of similes in Spanish. When Perez introduces similes in English, she doesn’t have to go over the concept, but can build on the topic. She teaches the new vocabulary, but not the idea and meaning behind the concept.
“I think that’s a really positive moment, when you see that these kids are bi-literate and bilingual, and are able to move between the languages without being fazed,” said Perez.
It’s a schoolwide effort preparing students with the content beginning in kindergarten.
“K-2 teachers play an important role in preparing students with the foundational skills that they need because it’s not an assessment of content in third grade, but the skills they have built over time,” said Delia Villanueva, Puesta del Sol’s Instructional Technology Curriculum Leader.
In addition to preparing students for the assessment, teachers are trained on the assessment by Villanueva. She helps them understand what the test is measuring, the steps involved and how they can best support students for the test. The goal of this is for teachers to be relaxed about administering the test. “When students see the teachers relaxed, they are more comfortable and relaxed as well,” said Villanueva.
“Ultimately, the support for student success came from teachers continuing to work hard, in such supportive ways delivering our Spanish immersion instructional program,” said Shearer. “Believing and knowing the skills would transfer from Spanish to English, and therefore on the Smarter Balanced Assessment, teachers believed that students would be successful in English.”
“We’re just helping students be confident, engaged readers and writers that possess higher level thinking skills,” Perez said. “The immersion model helps with that because I think it reinforces our students’ skills to be flexible learners.”