Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Hot topic: Filling out the SFUSD application

This from an SF K Files reader:
I'm looking at the school application and I'm wondering how to answer the Home Language questions. My husband and I speak two different languages to our son, 50/50, and have done so since he was born. I would imagine this is not uncommon in this city. For those who haven't seen it yet, the questions are:

1. What language did your child first learn when s/he began to talk? __________________
2. What language does your child use most frequently at home? __________________
3. What language do you use most frequently to speak to your child? _________________
4. What language do the adults use most frequently at home? _________________

Is, for example, "English & Korean" a legit answer? Would that answer make us "diverse"? What have other families done in this case?


  1. It sounds like you have a copy of the application... I am not in your situation, but am somewhat familiar as a second-hand observer.

    I understand that what the district wants to know is whether a child can be considered an 'english learner'. Given that the district is trying to give priorities to children who are disadvantaged - I think of this as english disadvantaged.

    You probably noticed on the app the section '10 steps to completing your application form'. Step 8 is to make an appointment for a language test if another language is spoken or an immersion program is requested.

    So, if your child tests as an English learner, then you count towards diversity. Or, if you child tests fluent (I'm not sure what the test score must be for this) for an immersion program - then perhaps you can get into an immersion program as a target language speaker instead of an English language speaker.

    However you answer the app - they will need to test your child for proper categorization (as diversity or for an immersion program).

    My good friends also speak 50/50 Korean and English - and given these requirements, they did not claim any non-english language on their application last year - because they didn't see a need for the district to test their daughter given her english abilities and the programs they requested.

    A final note - the testing is a relatively new thing - I understand the enforcing began last year. This was seen as a 'loop hole' in years past (since many families could claim a second language) - and the district is now verifying that those who claim the diversity are truly english learners or truly fluent for an immersion program.

  2. Why does the district not just clarify this for everyone by adding a question about whether the child speaks English fluently? We speak a non-immersion language in our home, and it is our child's first language. I just assumed that we would answer the questions on the application honestly, which apparently does not make sense, since it will lead to a needless waste of public funds to confirm that she also speaks English fluently. Am I correct about this? Is there a move to change this in future years?

  3. We had the exact same situation last year and we just answered the question honestly. I speak German and my partner speaks Polish. My child speaks both and English fluently. When I handed in the application, I had to fill out another paper which asked more specific questions about ability in foreign language. When we got the assignment, it said that I had to call EPC to get the child tested in foreign languages. I called and was told this does only apply for target immersion language. It's all very confusing.

  4. I had the same experience as 10:15. In our household we speak a non-immersion language, as well as English. My daughter started out learning the non-English better, since I was at home with her, but by the end of preschool she was about equally fluent in both. I was also asked to fill out another paper in addition to the application (which I thought was an affadavit (spelling?)and someone else can tell me about the legal ramifications of lying on that one). As far as I can remember one of the questions there was about the level of fluency in English. I stated, rightly, that she is fluent in English, but that her first language was XX.

    We did get our first choice of school, and was never asked to have her tested either in her foreign language or English. It wouldn't have been and issue, since she is fluent in both (though my native language is pretty rare, and I don't think they have too many "testers" floating around for it), and I am guessing that they wait to see once the kids are in school what is needed. An exerienced K teacher can probably figure that out really quickly.

  5. Best solution: Go down to EPC, or go to one of their enrollment events, and ask an EPC person directly what you should do. My partner is bilingual Spanish, and my kid attended an immersion preschool, but was English-dominant, but I wanted them tested for Spanish proficiency to see if they could get into the Spanish-speaking cohort for SI programs. So I asked an EPC official how to fill out the form so that my kid would be tested.

    As Korean is an immersion language (at Claire Lillenthal), you should probably do the same, especially if the Korean Immersion program at CL is on your list.

    As for the issue of "diversity": this is a red herring, for the most part. If a school gets overwhelmingly Anglophone applicants, having a non-English native language will give an edge: which is exactly as it should work, to spread out non-native English speakers throughout the schools rather than a more "lumpy" distribution.

    [By contrast, I've heard of applicants to Alice Fong Yu concealing the fact they're Cantonese-speaking to improve their chances of getting in.]

  6. Yes, but if your child speaks another language at home even if it is not a target language, doesn't that add to your child's diversity index? I think you should list the language anyway.

  7. Absolutely list the language!!! It cannot do any harm, and anecdotally it could do you a lot of good in terms of getting a good school. They may or may not test your kid, but unless it is for an immersion program, I have never known them to require you to schedule that ahead (and I know a lot of kids with second languages, including my own). And, assuming no one is claiming a second language where there is none, so what if they eventually test your kid?

    I don't think anyone knows exactly how this is playing out in the lottery, but it would be stupid not to list it when it could give a possible advantage. Even if your child is fluent in English.

    When you go 0/7, and your other friends with bilingual kids trot off to Clarendon or the like, you will be kicking yourself, and it will be too late.

  8. Those of you who are excited about claiming a home language as a diversity point: This is my biggest gripe with the lottery. Claiming another language when your kid is fluent in English is just wrong. Do people really think being bilingual on its own is a socio-economic hardship? I think we need to all admit it is a loop hole in the current system.

    I have seem family after family get their first choice in the lottery simply because they speak more than one language at home. These kids are all fluent in English and part of middle to upper class families. In fact, many would view being bilingual as an early advantage in life. And yet, these kids are put at the front of the lottery line.

    The lottery is supposed to give 'disadvantaged' kids an advantage. Obviously the pool of kids who are bilingual but not 'free lunch' or 'Section 8' or 'non-preschooled' kids is small, so these kids automatically get placed in high demand schools. It's discrimination against English-only speaking families in its purest form, and I, for one, am tired of seeing my friends who speak more than one language at home confidently choose trophy schools knowing darn well they'll get them.

  9. My child is in K at a non-immersion school- considerably oversubscribed. This is the first year I remember seeing a language tester on campus for a number of days early in the year. Many of our K class were tested - their parents are obviously bilingual as are the children. I don't know the exact amount, but I say 6 or 7 have obviously bilingual families: ie I hear them speaking with the children in a foreign langauge all the time. Since they were all being tested by the same woman, unless she could speak a number of different Asian and European languages, they were being tested for English proficiency.

    My take away lesson - put down that your child is bilingual if they are. It seems like that does have a positive effect in terms of the lottery. Their english skills will be tested, presumably to make sure they don't need any esl services, but not to confirm that they speak the other language.

    For the record, I know that this part of the system bugs some people, but as an english only family, I really like the diversity of language and culture, even if it is say, French.

    Clearly, this is not true for immersion programs.

  10. we listed that the adults in our family speak english and hindi at home (which they do and the question asked about the adults in the home). we went 0/15 in the lottery and then in kindergarten, our native speaking english kids were coded by EPC as being second language learners. they only know a little hindi.

  11. Well, it adds more than diversity to a class that my daughter has a deep understanding of the fact that there are more languages in this world than English, and that there are other, valuable cultures and traditions than the mainstream one in this country. Can you get that without speaking another language? Possibly, but not at 6. (and I grew up with only one language until past that age - not English - so I do think I know something about the difference), whatever her socio-economic status.

    I would also argue that it benefits those who are relatively economically poorer English learners, (be it in Spanish, Cantonese, whatever) that they are not the only ones who are "other", who don't have two parents who are native English speakers are part of the mainstream culture here. This way speaking another language and having a lot of family in other countries is as much a upper middle class "issue" as it is a working class one.

    Whether this is the "intention" of the lottery or not, it is what it is for now. I happen to know upper middle class people who claimed that their kid hadn't gone to preschool. I haven't lied about a thing.

  12. I know of a family (this is not urban legend) who put 'Australian' as their home language (they didn't understand the question) and their child was tested for ELL at the school the first week of school. Shall I put pidgen?

  13. Has anyone else out there put down a home language other than English on the app and gone 0/7 or 0/15? I'm just curious.

  14. To be clear, speaking a language other than English may add diversity at some schools but not others! There's not a "good" or "bad" diversity profile across the board--it all depends on the mix at the particular school at a particular moment. Therefore speaking a language other than English does not get you to the "front of the line" at all schools, including several fine schools with top test scores. It probably does help with Clarendon and Miraloma though, because their applicant pool seems to be, relatively speaking, monochrome and monolingual (though still diverse by private school standards, of course....this is all relative).

    Also, the impact on access to immersion programs is quite different--they are looking for a % of target language versus non-target language (of any kind).

    Regarding the Australian, maybe they could have figured the kid was aboriginal or something....

  15. "Has anyone else out there put down a home language other than English on the app and gone 0/7 or 0/15? I'm just curious."


    Unless your child tests as not being functional in English,
    they don't care about what languages your child speaks unless it is one of the immersion "target" languages. You would have to get a list of immersion programs offered.

    I don't know what criterion is used to determine if a child is functional in English if they put another mother language on the form. It seems to be a grey area where the school board "guesses" the degree of English proficiency of your child.

    I don't want to cause a flame war, but if you appear at the SFUSD office and you look white and you are talking English, they will probably assume that your child is a fluent English speaker.

  16. If we could actually find out how many kids are in each of the 16 applicant pools, then we could have a meaningful conversation about the front vs. the back of the line, especially with regard to certain schools. But that'll never happen, thanks to the SFUSD. We'll probably all get a decent school in the end, but the lengthy and cryptic lottery process is truly painful, and we do lose a lot of nice families along the way.

    And I also wonder, if your child goes to a daycare that is very much like a preschool, but technically it's a daycare, and let's say your kid even knows her abcs and numbers and can write her name, is it okay, then, to put 'no preschool' down on the application, knowing that you "didn't lie about a thing"? I don't care what anyone says, this process is crazy.

    And lastly, please agree: the schools that have a higher number of kids with diversity points applying to them are for the most part not the schools that any of us are hoping to get. Oh wait, we can't really know because no one has the benefit of this information.

    Sorry to be sarcastic, I just can't sit back and witness so much Koolaid chugging with regard to this topic. I much prefer wine.

  17. Here's an anecdote. I went down to EPC two weeks ago to drop off my form. Woman in front of me got into an argument with the person at the desk because they wanted her to bring in her child for testing. She got angry and told them, "Just take it off." I saw the EPC person scratch something out and have the woman initial it.

    Then it was my turn. I had filled out "English" for items 1, 2 and 4. For 3 I entered "Father: English. Mother: Greek." They wanted to bring my child in for testing. I fought back, stating that it was obvious my child speaks English. After some back-and-forth and the EPC person asking a colleague, it was okay.

    Gosh, I hope they didn't throw my application in the garbage after I walked away :)

    It is definitely a frustrating experience.

  18. Since they introduced the mandatory testing in the target language for immersion programs, it is less of a loophole (after the Flynn-arado incident). My complaint about the testing is that they take a 4 year old kid away from their parent into a room with a stranger and expect them to converse! Gregarious kids may be ok with this, our child was not. At first she refused to even go away with the very nice woman stranger. She finally went with her and clearly understood everything the woman was saying to her in Spanish, but she didn't speak to the woman and got an 8 out of 100 on the test!

    We adopted our daughter from Guatemala and she didn't come home with us until she was 18 months old, already beginning to speak in Spanish, so we put that as the language she spoke when first learning to talk. I speak some Spanish, but we speak predominantly English at home. She went to daycare with a woman who only spoke Spanish and to a Spanish immersion preschool. It ended ok, because we got into our first choice school, Fairmount. Prior to the start of school, she had to do some testing there in English and Spanish and they allowed me to be present in the room and it was completely different! She spoke with them, was able to count, follow instructions etc. I don't know why they don't allow parents to sit silently in the room during EPC testing.

  19. It would help if the application explained the process of testing. And it does seem absurd that a parent wouldn't be allowed to be there for the test. I feel bad for parents put into that situation.

  20. Can someone from PPS comment on this? I think they have changed the algorithm since last year or the year b/f and they don't count language as one of the binaries (that determines your diversity profile). They only want to know if you are an English learner b/c the schools/district get more money and resources for English learners. That's it. It doesn't play into the lotto (except for the Immersion programs w/special needs). I heard this from the principal at New Traditions or McKinley one of those (at a neighborhood K event). She said they had bunch of kids whose parents had put on the form that their kid spoke Spanish b/c the nanny did (hoping for that diversity point) but all it really did was create an administrative headache b/c the school was supposed to test the kids for English proficiency but of course none of the parents wanted to bother w/it b/c their kids only spoke English. Can someone in the know, PPS, etc. clarify. THX

  21. We listed English/German on all of the language questions last year and went 0/7. All of my friends with bi-lingual kids who put German/English or German only got thier first choice. ALL of them.

    When we went to speak to the EPC we were told that the database only has room for 1 language so they just default to which ever language you list first. Of course they don't bother to contact you to clarify or bother to mention that fact when you turn in your form and the person behind the counter scrutinizes and then signs it. Love it or hate it, it is one of the EPC diversity factors so my advice is to list the foreign language first and take advantage of whatever edge you can get in this ridiculous system.

  22. I answered Spanish for all the questions last year and got into Lilienthal. At no point was I asked to have my daughter tested in English or Spanish. Could have been that I took her with me to the EPC and we were clearly speaking Spanish. But they wouldn't have been able to guess her level of English based on that. Hmmm...

  23. Thanks for helping people understand how to game the system.

  24. I don't know anyone that was tested last year (unless for immersion programs), and I know a lot of bilingual families. It sounds like they might have changed that this year.

  25. I suppose if all bilingual families in SF put their non-English language first, there will be so many families in that pool they'll no longer have an edge?

  26. "When we went to speak to the EPC we were told that the database only has room for 1 language so they just default to which ever language you list first."

    Possibly for the lottery, that's the case, but we listed English/Spanish (as my wife is bilingual and my kid went to an immersion preschool), and our kid was still tested for Spanish proficiency.

  27. Yes, please be aware that language testing is much more stringent this year, and not just for immersion applicants.

  28. I kind of like the idea of everyone listing their non English language first.

    What is the worst thing that could happen? Your child could be tested as being English proficient and you could end up in the English speaking pool. That is where you are going to end up anyway if you list English first.

    List your non-English language first!!

  29. The original poster stated that they speak 50/50. That does make it a confusing choice given how the questions are stated.

    Then 8:46 writes: "I kind of like the idea of everyone listing their non English language first."

    Everyone? I don't like the tone of this comment.

    It assumes that every family out there speaking two languages at home has the same 50/50 situation. I wouldn't think this is the case. And if you speak more English at home than the other language, but choose to put the other language first, that's called lying. Am I the only one who sees it this way?

  30. "Yes, please be aware that language testing is much more stringent this year, and not just for immersion applicants."

    Anecdotally for Spanish, in 2008 I heard cases of preschoolers with good aural comprehension but who were shy to speak in the language being assessed as borderline proficient and placed in the bilingual cohort.

    In 2009, aural comprehension wasn't sufficient. If the kid wasn't speaking semi-fluently in sentences, they weren't assessed as proficient. The bar was a *lot* higher.

  31. "It assumes that every family out there speaking two languages at home has the same 50/50 situation. I wouldn't think this is the case. And if you speak more English at home than the other language, but choose to put the other language first, that's called lying. Am I the only one who sees it this way?"


    For more than ten years, it has been almost impossible to legally immigrate to this country, state or city without being a skilled worker with good english proficiency. What are we to conclude about the huge numbers of parents who declare their children as being non-English speaking? The vast majority of non-English speaking immigrants must have not only "lied" but also broken federal law in order to enter the country. I would also mention that very few of these "undocumented immigrants" meet international standards as political refugees.

    I have also noticed that it is almost routine for second and third generation Spanish/English and Asian/English speaking families to continue to list Spanish/Cantonese/etc. as their primary language, even when they are very proficient at speaking English. The SFUSD almost never questions or tests the degree of English speaking ability of members of the the Asian and Latino communities.

    Why should anybody else be treated differently?

    It my opinion that language should not be a factor in the lottery, but until it is removed, I don't see why German, Danish, Hebrew, Hindi, etc. speakers should downplay their family's language on the form.

  32. My daughter is bilingual. One parent speaks to her in English, and the other in another language. She is fluent on both. I said so on the application, though it is also a fact that since her mother is a native speaker (born and raised in another country) of a different language, and was home with our child for a long time, she spoke the foreign language first.

    No lying involved, and I assume the same is true for many others in this city. Whether you agree with language being given consideration in the lottery or not, it is rude to assume that everyone with bilingual families that got a good school were "lying".

  33. My apologies if I put you on the defense. I am not assuming that every bilingual family is lying. I'm just asking people to read the questions carefully and answer them truthfully, not just in a way that will increase your odds of getting into a school. It seemed that one of the earlier posters was encouraging people to put their other language first no matter what. (And with exclamation points.)

    I agree that language should be removed from the lottery index as a means of determining whether or not a child is truly disadvantaged - unless that child is an ENGLISH LEARNER, in which case he/she truly is disadvantaged.

    Think about it: The school district can't determine diversity by color of skin, religion, hairstyle, etc. That would be illegal. But for some reason language has been deemed OK in this grand experiment in social engineering. It's absurd.

  34. "Think about it: The school district can't determine diversity by color of skin, religion, hairstyle, etc. That would be illegal. But for some reason language has been deemed OK in this grand experiment in social engineering. It's absurd."

    Yeah, it's absurd. Agreed.

    What makes it even more absurd, however, is that determining if a child is an English language learner is quite arbitrary. I doubt that the district really has any economical and fair way to do this.

    I don't think that being an English language learner should be a factor in the lottery.

  35. I was just looking at this post and noticed alot of misinformation.
    I don't monitor this blog often (sorry - just not enough hours in the day) so if you need an answer please post on the PPS listserve or email us.

    1. If you list anything other than English on the home language survey your child will be asked to come in for a language assessment. You will need to do so for your application to be considered complete.

    2. The first assessment is for English proficiency. If your child is determined to be English proficient (whether they are bi-lingual or not) - you go home. If your child is not English proficient then a native language assessment is done followed by a counseling session on your ELL options.

    3. If your child is considered English Proficient they are not considered an English Language Learner (ELL). They will be assigned a diversity value of "0" in the lottery.

    4. Language Assessments were done much more consistently in years past, last year they were done sporadically. This year 100% of those who list a language other than English will be assessed.

    5. The primary purpose of the assessments is to identify our very many ELL families. There are many programs for ELL families and the goal is to give them the appropriate counseling so they can make a more informed decision.

    6. Yes, at the same time it does close a loop hole by making one of the diversity factors in the lottery a factor that is not self-reporting. However, this was not its primary purpose.

    7. Being an ELL is not necessarily an advantage in the lottery system. The goal is 50% ELL and 50% English proficient. Our district is greater than 50% ELL.

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