Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hot topic: Do immersion students lag behind in English?

An SF K Files visitor has a few questions for parents with children in language immersion programs:

"I'd love to hear from parents of kids in immersion programs (and it would be great to hear from ones in less talked about ones, like KIP, too) about any concerns/lack of concerns they may have had about their kids' English learning skills. That is, did they feel any need to provide their kids supplemental English reading and writing skills in the early years (when in immersion programs the bulk of the teaching in in the immersion language)?"

26 comments:

  1. Kids who come out of Spanish immersion programs usually do well on the verbal portion of the SAT because they understand the latin roots and can decode unfamiliar words.

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  2. Think about it this way: Your kid is immersed in English whenever he is outside the classroom, even on the playground.

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  3. Well, since there is only so many hours in a day, and unless your child is an Einstein, the obvious answer is yes.

    So, don't apply to immersion if this is a cause of concern to you, it will free up spots for other families who are less concerned with this issue in the short term, because precisely, they want their child to be immersed and pick up as much of the target language as they can. The English - geez, can't get away from it in this country unless you CHOOSE to hide in a closet, or go live in some known immigrant enclaves where people do not speak English.

    I'd be more worry about the child forgetting most of the target language, what with the lack of spaces in middle school.

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  4. One thing that I haven't seen addressed is how well the ELL students do in these programs. While immersion advocates note that 'research shows' that these kids do better in the long run, all this research is NOT is SFUSD nor does SFUSD fully structure the immersion program to get the best results. With little (or really, NO) planning around program development or placement at SFUSD, these programs are questionable. Research I've seen show that in SFUSD, the ELL kids in immersion programs are not necessarily doing as well. And the 'research' and 'data' that many parent advocates pull out only show the kids that stayed in the program through 8th grade with no control group from which to compare. Not real research.

    Note, I fully support the idea of creating a world of bilingual people, but have not seen that the way we are doing it in SFUSD is really best practices for ELL children. I hope that the new administration and the BOE will make sure that at 555 FRanklin they reorganize and hold some folks there accountable for making sure programs are getting solid results.

    Why, for example, aren't all principals of Spanish immersion programs supervised by the same people? Why is the curriculum different at each school? Why is there no cross communication/teaming between immersion schools? Seems pretty basic.

    But the poster's original concern regarding English speaking immersion students lagging in English should not be of concern. Their kids will do fine -especially if you have a parent focused on reading and language arts at home (these kids will generally do well in whatever program you put them into!)

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  5. my son is only in kindergarten but i can see already that he may be behind in his english writing and reading skills. i can also see that his metalinguistic, problem-solving and attending skills are zooming along. i'm taking it one year at a time. i do want him to be an excellent speller and reader in english, and am a little concerned that he won't be taught these skills well in his mandarin immersion program. there really isn't much research about immersion in the character languages, so it is harder to have faith. if it looks like we may need to hire a tutor in either language we will seriously reconsider the program...

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  6. I wanted to add a second question to this question. My son is a special need kid with an IEP. When I was applying for K three years ago, the folks down at SFUSD Special Ed Unit cautioned me about putting my kid in immersion. They felt that, if my kid was likely to have learning delays, then it would be better to have him in general ed -- a completely foreign language would just add to the adjustment and transitioning problems and mask the exact nature of his delays. We were really torn about doing so. In the end, we didn't get into an immersion program, which kind of answered the question for us and we are now in gen ed. But I am intrigued with whether there are any parents on this blog whose kids are special ed AND in immersion and would care to comment about their kids' experience in immersion. Did their kid thrive or did it become a problem?

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  7. Just a couple of data points:
    Our child who only spoke a foreign language until preschool is now 5 and has excellent English verbal skills and is starting to read and write in both languages - at a rate that amazes me. I also remember asking the principal of an immersion program school about whether students in the immersion program fared worse in verbal tests, and was told that their scores were actually slightly higher.

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  8. I don't think going by scores in some immersion programs means that much for the English-speakers, since families with kids in immersion are often a well-educated and self-selected bunch. Higher than who? If the ELL kids score higher than their non-immersion peers then that's good news...

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  9. Short answer is: yes. In the short term, immersion students lag behind in English, compared to their non-immersion peers. Theoretically this gap closes and immersion students catch up, and even surpass, their non-immersion peers in English. Can't speak to when that threshold occurs in SFUSD immersion programs. We are in a private immersion program, where the language is balanced 50-50 from K up to 5th grade (and then favors English 60-40 in middle school.) At our school, students catch up to their monolingual peers in English proficiency around 4th-5th grade. In middle school, they start to pull ahead in English. In our case, students are being compared to monolingual peers at other independent schools.

    Don't know how this would compare to immersion programs in SFUSD, none of which follow the 50-50 model as far as I know.

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  10. Also, even the proponents say: don't start if you can't finish. If you transfer to gen ed in, say 3rd grade, you WILL be behind.

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  11. 11:15 here - the scores I mentioned are of the KIP students vs. the Gen Ed students at Claire Lilienthal. Sorry I wasn't more clear.

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  12. Jeez, just buy BRAINQUEST workbooks for whatever grade your kids are in and have them follow that curriculum and you'll have nothing to worry about.

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  13. When do you do these workbooks with them?

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  14. an hour before supper ...

    every night

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  15. When????

    These people all have nannies and never see their children, I guess.

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  16. So SFUSD immersion + homeschool = a complete education...

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  17. I wouldn't rely on any school for "a complete education"

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  18. I have a kindergartener in Spanish immersion. In an English strand my kid would be bored, but what will happen in a few years? We'll see.

    Choosing immersion means accepting some responsibility in educating your kid. If you are nine to fiving, then you have a couple of evening hours in the day and you need to think about realistic goals. If you don't speak the second language targeted by the immersion program, make the decision based on your knowledge of your child. In a nutshell, you are the parent making this decision. Don't lay all the responsibility at the feet of the district.

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  19. Just read my own post. How many feet does this district have?

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  20. Oh, geez. You read another thread and it seems like most of the private school parents are paying for tutoring for the kids (yes, ON TOP OF $20K/year!). I mean, you'd think they wouldn't have to do that what with paying for tuition in the first place an all. My kids have done fine in public school immersion, and yes, I understand they are bright, motivated kids who get excellent test scores and grades, so maybe it is different for other kids, but my own thought has been, back off and don't be the hovering parent so many seem to be in my generation. Let the teachers teach, let the kids learn. Of course I make sure they do their homework and I help with the big projects when asked (technical details like buying the poster board, reading for grammar errors). Otherwise, let'em grow into themselves!

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  21. Our daughter is in a Kinder Mandarin program and her English seems to be fine. We're keeping an eye on it, and hire a tutor in 3d or 4th grade if concerns grow. For now, we're just thrilled that she is learning Mandarin and getting rigorous English instruction on top of it.

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  22. The Score Center on West Portal avenue has a very large group of 6 -8th graders from Alice Fong Yu all getting English help. I asked what schools have childer there and in what percentages. For English work, Alice Fong Yu sends a large group. Math is fine, but the English is lagging. Some of these tutoring places like Score or Sylvan may have interest data as well on what they see.

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  23. 10:37,

    http://star.cde.ca.gov/star2008/Viewreport.asp

    At AFY, English scores only "lag" in comparison to the very high math scores. (AFY is one of the schools where all 8th graders take "honors" math- Algebra- but the only school where all 8th graders scored proficient or advanced on the Algebra CST last year.) Still, the English scores are among the highest -if not the highest-in the district. (Doesn't AFY have the highest API in SF?) The entire school is immersion (unlike the other SFUSD immersion schools which also include general ed), so the Star scores at AFY are entirely from immersion students. (I've never seen that broken down at the schools that have both programs, but maybe that info exists somewhere?) One pretty big difference between AFY and the other programs, though, is that all AFY students have to be English proficient before entering the program.

    In terms of tutoring at Score.... were the kids mainly Chinese? I've seen a lot of Chinese families utilize those kinds of services, not necessarily because the kid is behind, but because they think it will provide an advantage. (Not saying other families don't do this, too, but that it seems prevalent among many Chinese families I've known.) Also... for even some English proficient Chinese students, English still might not be the primary language spoken at home, so maybe tutoring is used to further develop the English? At any rate, I know the Star test doesn't prove everything, but it does seem to indicate that immersion is not causing AFY students to lag behind other students in English.

    Or... do you mean that even though the students do well on the tests, many of them can't actually write well in English? (Is there a writing component on the Star test?) Still... inability to write well is pretty common these days, so even if that were true, I'm not sure immersion would be to blame.

    (But now that I reread your comment... you are saying AFY actually sends the kids there? Is the school.. or PTA or something... paying for that? Or is it just some AFY families getting together a group on their own?)

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  24. Let me clarify. The Score center sees their highest percentage of students using their English focused programs coming from AFY. AFY does not send them to Score. Keep in mind that the location will also drive this data as the score center may be convienent for these families. For Math, the predominant schools at this score center are some of the local catholic schools. Not a scientific survey by any means. And yes most of these children from what I saw were Chinese. Perhaps these families are just trying to get more of an edge by additional tutoring although their children are proficient and testing well in school.

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  25. I'd bet that the situation is that many of those families are trying to get an edge.

    Asian families in general are very very education focused -- go to any blue ribbon suburban school district with a lot of Asian/Chinese families and even though the school program is fine, the parents will still send those kids for extra tutoring etc to make sure their child gets an edge. Its not just getting an education for us Chinese folks, its scoring in the top 5%.

    A very different cultural and educational philosophy, which is why I think you see the big difference in proficiency rates among the Spanish bilingual and Cantonese bilingual programs when it comes to the scores on various standardized test. (bilingual programs are designed for immigrant students whose primary language is not English. generally families in this demographic are not your middle class educated parents, even if the family are immigrants).

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