Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Hot topic: Language assessment for SFUSD

This from a reader:
I am going bonkers! My daughter goes to a preschool where they predominately speak Spanish. I have visited Spanish immersion elementary schools; and want my daughter to go to an immersion school. Sadly, we are 0/7 and sumbmitted for the waitlist and Round 2. I keep getting conflicting reports about getting her tested to be bilingual. Some say it's a waste of time, others she will get preferntial treatment as immersion schools want more bilingual students to even things up because at the moment they have more non-Spanish speaking students. Does anyone have an answer? I don't want to drag my daughter to SFUSD if I don't have to! Please help me!

64 comments:

  1. Ask your preschool director what the record has been with kids passing the SFUSD proficiency test.

    Last year, it was pretty stringent. Passing the test needs the kid to speak Spanish sentences, not just aural comprehension. If you're not sure your kid will pass, they probably won't.

    From personal experience, as most of the Spanish immersion preschools in the city (except Las Olas) are one-way immersion (i.e. they don't limit the ratio of Anglophone only to Spanish-speaking kids), the kids from immersion programs have good aural comprehension but have difficulty speaking in the target language. A vacation to e.g. Mexico can help immensely getting them over the hump of getting comfortable speaking as well as hearing.

    I know Las Olas does a bit better in getting Anglophone-only kids proficient in Spanish, but then they only admit 2 or less Anglophone-only kids each year, so the playground language is Spanish.

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  2. I hear you! My son has been in a monolingual Spanish program since infancy and we (the parents) speak English only. Went 0/7 Spanish Immersion, started hearing conflicting reports about language assessment, so we took him to Ed Placement for the assessment. We were told by the assessor that our language survey responses on the initial K application were "locked in" as English only, but that they'd assess our child as an exception. He scored a 63 on the PRE LAS (Language Assessment of Spanish, I think..) which categorized him as "Limited Spanish Proficient". The assessor was super nice, and said the results won't give him priority over any other English speaking kid. I don't know- the process IS confusing. Initially, when I called for a language assessment appointment the woman who answered the phone said it was "up to me" about whether to assess (???) and then the assessor said she made an exception to assess. So there's your non answer- but that was our experience!!

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  3. After the Flynnarado incident, they required an assessment if you wanted to say your child was competent in the language. We speak English at home, but our daughter went to a Spanish Immersion preschool. She understood everything, but didn't like to speak in Spanish. Plus, she is shy. They take 4 year old kids off alone to a room with a stranger and expect them to converse! Our daughter would barely speak (English or Spanish) and got a very low score on the test. We got into a Spanish immersion elementary and she is doing fine. Can't hurt to try the test, but I do object to them not even letting parents sit silently in the room.

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  4. There is very little transparency surrounding student assignments for the immersion programs. This can leave families frazzled and dejected.

    If you are a native spanish speaker and/or billingual speaker, you are supposed to know that you are supposed to answer "spanish" to all of the home language questions in order to be "classified" as a native speaker (and take proficiency test). What if you are a "native" speaker of more than one language? What if you did not know this secret? Too bad - You can't change your initial "classification".

    After round I, it can be even harder for english speaking families to get a spot in spanish immersion. It seems that even though there are documented procedures for administering waitpools, these procedures are not necessarily followed for the immersion programs.

    If you have been reading this blog you have seen the examples - No need for me to repost.

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  5. To the original poster...
    Have you looked at Marin Prep for kindergarten?

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  6. There is no downside to getting "tested". Your odds of getting into a Spanish-immersion program are MUCH higher with a kid who is assessed as fluent in Spanish.

    But if your kid bombs the test, you are no worse off than you are.

    Go!

    RE: Las Olas... Don't know about this year, but last year all of their "graduates" scored super high (90 to 100 percent), including the kids with no Spanish at home. Very impressive.

    The other immersion preschools we've visited aren't really immersion. True, the teachers might speak Spanish, but the kids speak English among themselves, so the kids only here Spanish during circle time, transitions, etc. It probably adds up to less than 45 minutes a day.

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  7. Crayon Box is notorious for having very few kids pass the assessment. At least that is what the person administering the assessment said.

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  8. Random thoughts, specifically as it relates to immersion programs:

    - SFUSD doesn't consider children to be bilingual - or should I say, to them it's totally inconsequential. That is, for admission into Language immersion programs, they simply care about, "Can you speak the target language." And for diversity points, it's simply, "Can you speak english." They don't really combine these two questions, as they are used in different portions of the admissions process.

    - As 3:26 mentioned, if your child is bilingual and speaks Spanish fluently, and you're hoping for a language immersion spot, then you definitely should have put "Spanish" for everything on the home language portion of the application. It suks that they didn't put this on the application.

    - But assuming you did put Spanish on your application, then they will assess the child in both English and Spanish. The assessors are super nice and experienced at doing this, and can see the difference between shyness and inability to speak Spanish. If the kid is really shy, occasionally they will suggest that you reschedule for another time. My daughter is shy with strangers, but (fortunately) a friend went before her and told her that the assessment was fun. I think that helped her a lot, because she had no problems when it was her turn.

    - Later, during the selection process, they try to place a third of each class as "english-only" and two-thirds as "target language" for language immersion programs (to be precise, it's 9 english-only and 13 target language per class). In the past I heard they tried to find 1/3 english only, 1/3 target language only, and 1/3 bilingual. I can't confirm what they did in prior years, but this year they definitely do not/did not use that approach this time around. As per my first bullet, they don't consider children to be bilingual, so it's strictly 9/13, yes/no, black/white, no shades of bilingual grayness.

    - Incidentally, note that this approach really screws english-speaking parents who worked hard at getting their kid to speak spanish because they thought it would help their chances for language immersions when they hit K. And maybe that was true in the past, but this year if someone scored a 75 in spanish (80 was the minimum cut-off) and 95 in english, they would be tossed into the same bucket as someone who was "english only". This seems a bit unfair and dumb to me, since I'd think a bilingual kid like that (ie. 75 spanish/95 english) would be one of your most valuable kids in an immersion setting, moreso than even kids who were spanish-only and scored an 90 on the test. But what do I know.

    - Back to admissions - Because only 9 slots per class were for english-only, that makes language immersion programs particularly a tough option for english-speaking parents. Unless you get sibling preference, in which case you automatically get in.

    (continued)

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  9. (continued from 7:54p)

    - So now let's think about siblings: I would hypothesize that at least half of all incoming siblings are english-speaking. Why? Well, it's just a hypothesis, but I've heard things like, "Send the older kid to the GE program so at least the younger kid would get the immersion experience". And I also think that parents who speak the target language might decide to send their younger sibling to the GE program to make sure the 2nd one speaks english real well, maybe because the elder child was in immersion and isn't speaking english as well as the parent would like (which is natural, but esp. worrisome, let's say if you are new to this country and tie their kids' future success to their ability to communicate in english).

    - So if my hypothesis is correct, it makes it even harder - I'd even say *super* hard - for english-speakers to get into an immersion program. Let's play with some numbers - It's not uncommon to have 5 or 6 kids per class be siblings, right? Well for immersion, let's say 5 of them are english speaking. That leaves 9 minus 5 = 4 slots left for english speakers. So when you're talking about 200 or 300 or 500 people applying, the vast majority of which are english speakers, you're talking about a miniscule chance of getting in.

    - In fact, if you combine all that and you are not in the area preference for the school you are applying to, then you have zero chance. OK, let's say epsilon chance (sorry, statistician here - let's call it 0.01% chance).

    - OK water under the bridget - Now let's think about round 2. If I were an english-speaking family in round 2, I'd consider all of what I wrote above heavily, and then consider what SFUSD will do. I personally think SFUSD will do *everything* they can to place a native speaker into an empty slot. Some say they *may* open them at the very end of round 2, but then again, they may not. If I were them and I even kind-of wanted to stick to the 9/13 ratio, then that's just what I'd do. This is because I'd surmise that non-english speaking households have a much higher likelihood of applying late, even after the round 2 deadline (in fact, they no doubt have historical data to support this very notion). Furthermore, they know there are tons of willing takers who are english-speakers, so it's not like I won't fill the class by waiting until July or even August to begin to fill the 13 target-language spots with english speakers.

    So therefore, if were not in the area preference of one of the schools, and were english-only, I'd probably high-tail it out of even slightly-popular language immersion programs - even ones that say they have an opening or two (since those openings are no doubt being held for target-language speakers).

    Apologies if any of this rains on folks' parades, just keepin' it real.

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  10. to 6:52p (and others)

    I think you're right about some spanish preschool programs, but there are other good ones that really gets them speaking and learning spanish.

    One we know of is Las Ma├▒anitas, and it is awesome! They are relatively new, they only speak spanish, all play-based, small, and super warm and friendly. I think they might be full for next year, but it's worth reaching out to them if you're interested. Can't speak highly enough about them, even for english speakers.

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  11. Kids who score 75 % on the Spanish test have good receptive skills, but CANNOT serve as target language models, so they aren't that useful in an immersion classroom. They'll learn Spanish quicker, but their primary language is English and that is what they will speak in the classroom and on the playground. They are English DOMINANT, period.

    Kids with those kinds of scores are considered bilingual, not target language speakers.

    On the other hand, a kid who scores 100 percent on the Spanish exam is considered a target language speaker, even if their English is just as good as their Spanish. Weird, huh?

    That's my understanding, anyway.

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  12. What's with all the spelling and grammar mistakes on the Las Mananitas website? Do the teachers speak decent Spanish? We were turned off by the website.

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  13. My wife noticed that too and pointed it out to me! (She's a native speaker. I am not.) The writing on the Spanish-language version of the Mananitas website is truly atrocious: LOTS of spelling and grammar mistakes. "La" programa instead of "el" programa... Lots of really basic stuff even I could tell was wrong.

    Made me really doubt the Spanish speaking abilities of the teachers... or the professionalism of the staff since even if written language isn't your "forte", you can always find someone who can proofread.

    But the mistakes went beyond typos.. it was lack of knowledge.
    "Literacia" as a direct translation of "literacy"? Really? Awful.

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  14. Actually, I wouldn't judge the preschool because of the mistakes in the Spanish portion of the website. I'm a native Spanish speaker, and what's going on from what I can tell isn't actually the teachers' fault.

    I'm guessing the administrators made the website in English, then translated it to Spanish using Google Translate or something of the sort, unaware of the grammatical and spelling mistakes in it.

    Besides, even if they did translate the whole thing themselves--I highly doubt it was the teachers that did the translating.

    It sounds like Las Mananitas would create a great bilingual environment for your kid--I would at least recommend touring it before making assumptions based purely on the grammar of the website.

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  15. "He scored a 63 on the PRE LAS (Language Assessment of Spanish, I think..) which categorized him as "Limited Spanish Proficient". The assessor was super nice, and said the results won't give him priority over any other English speaking kid. "

    Hmm. That was different than last year, where if you scored over 60 you were counted as proficient.

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  16. "Crayon Box is notorious for having very few kids pass the assessment. At least that is what the person administering the assessment said."

    I'm an ex-Crayon Box parent, so here's the story: In 2008, Crayon Boxes pre-K year was 100% Spanish. But kids from the school were having issues in interviews for the privates because they knew the standard pre-K academic stuff in Spanish, but not English.

    So in 2009, they switched the pre-K year to 50% English so they'd make sure the kids knew the material in English: my kid was in that year, and I noticed a real drop in his use of Spanish (he'd been in the preschool with 100% Spanish before that, and my wife is a fluent Spanish speaker). So this year, they shifted to 80% Spanish in the pre-K year.

    [The difference I noted between 100% and 50% immersion should give people pause if considering the 50% immersion programs in the privates like FAIS: I think CAIS is said to do a decent job even with only 50% immersion.]

    FWIW, the only preschool that I heard that did get non-native Spanish speakers to proficiency was Las Olas.

    "Don't know about this year, but last year all of their "graduates" scored super high (90 to 100 percent), including the kids with no Spanish at home."

    I have a friend on the board of Las Olas (my kid still does playdates with them), and they only take 2 kids a year who aren't native Spanish speakers. And even for those kids, they tend to be from families where the parents are fluent, if non-native, speakers. If you aren't fluent in Spanish, your chances of getting in are remote.

    Will Crayon Box or Las Manzanitas get your kid to the level of spoken proficiency at Las Olas? No, but if you aren't a fluent Spanish speaker, and can't do a co-op preschool, they're still a pretty good option for exposing your child to the language: they'll have great aural comprehension, at least. Crayon Box was a great option for our kid.

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  17. "In the past I heard they tried to find 1/3 english only, 1/3 target language only, and 1/3 bilingual."

    Last year, the language programs coordinator (the guy who used to be principal at Fairmont) said that was their target.

    " But assuming you did put Spanish on your application, then they will assess the child in both English and Spanish. The assessors are super nice and experienced at doing this, and can see the difference between shyness and inability to speak Spanish."

    When my kid was tested, they used a non-native speaker to do the testing. As he had a habit of only using Spanish to native speakers, I think he did worse than he would have if they'd used a native speaker.

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  18. 12:20: Was your assessor Asian, per chance?

    We are a former Las Olas family and I can vouch for the fact that the two English speaking kids who graduated last year had NO ONE at home who spoke Spanish fluently. Neither had family members who spoke Spanish well enough to volunteer in the classroom, for example.


    RE: 50/50 or even 80/20 immersion models in preschool. They don't work. Here's why. Those ratios reflect the *instructor's* language during structured instruction time. In an elementary classroom, 80-90 percent of the day is structured instruction time. In a preschool, (if it is decent and based on best practices in early childhood education), MOST of the day is unstructured play in which most of the communication is peer-to-peer, among the kids. So if the teacher is communicating in English 20-50 percent of the time the kids actually end up with more like 75-90 percent English since that is the primary play language and that is what they do most of the time (again, if the school is developmentally appropriate).

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  19. RE: Las Mananitas...

    The head teacher IS the founder/administrator.. so the website reflects her limited abilities in proper Spanish.

    She is a KICK ASS teacher, and that, in and of itself is a reason to consider her lovely, home-based program.

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  20. Several parents at our school complained about the assessor being Asian and NOT a native speaker.

    Turns out she is Peruvian! Her grandfather immigrated from China to Peru. She was born and raised in Peru and Spanish is her primary language (though she did learn a few words in Cantonese as a child in order to communicate with her grandparents)!

    Can't judge a book by its cover...

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  21. "12:20: Was your assessor Asian, per chance?"

    No, African-american. A good speaker, but her accent wasn't that of a native speaker.

    "We are a former Las Olas family and I can vouch for the fact that the two English speaking kids who graduated last year had NO ONE at home who spoke Spanish fluently."

    Not to doubt your story, but I remember going to a birthday party for a Las Olas kid a year or so back, all the other families were Las Olas, and the English-speaking parents were all also fluent in Spanish (from Peace Corps work, etc.).

    "In an elementary classroom, 80-90 percent of the day is structured instruction time. In a preschool, (if it is decent and based on best practices in early childhood education), MOST of the day is unstructured play in which most of the communication is peer-to-peer, among the kids."

    Plus, it's hard to maintain the rule that the teacher never speak English in front of the kids in preschool. Little kids need their needs met, and sometimes that means using their primary language.

    However, to make the playground language the target language, you have to limit the intake the same as that for the SFUSD two-way programs.

    At Las Olas, you have a small school, limit English-only kids even more than the two-way SFUSD elementary programs (only 10-20% anglophone-only kids), and a co-op, half-day model to keep costs down. Not all families can do co-op, because of work committments. My spouse is bilingual Spanish, but it wouldn't have worked for us.

    Scaling what Las Olas does to 70-80 kids at a larger, non co-op preschool is going to be difficult. Las Olas is a great school, but the demand for some form of immersion preschool in SF from anglophone only families exceeds the 1-2 slots Las Olas has.

    Las Olas is great. So are Crayon Box and Las Manzanitas; they serve somewhat different purposes.

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  22. 9:00 am. I'll also note my kid went from Spanish immersion at Crayon Box to a Chinese immersion program for kinder.

    He adapted much better than I thought he would, and I explain part of that being because of the ear "being opened" by early immersion education, and also less of a cultural shock to go from one from of foreign language immersion to another.

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  23. Our situation is different, but we did go through two SFUSD language proficiency assessments. My daughter (from our non- Mandarin speaking home) has been attending the private Mandarin immersion school since preschool, and took the Mandarin proficiency test for the first time (February of 2009) when were planning to transfer her to a public Mandarin immersion program for 09/10 ( 2nd grade). My daughter qualified as Mandarin proficient, but we ended up staying at the private. However, we applied for public again this year, so she had to be assessed again. (And she “passed” again.) We did have two or three EPC staff members initially tell us she didn’t need to be tested again (which surprised us) before we were finally told she did need an updated assessment, after all. The testers were kind and reassuring both years (and my daughter came out with some Hello Kitty coloring pages this year), but I can see how the experience might be difficult for some younger (and shyer) kids, since the parents are not allowed to accompany them. Also, my daughter writes/reads traditional characters (not simplified), so traditional characters were used for the assessment, even though the public MI programs use simplified. (That was a relief.)

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  24. M, did you get in a Mandarin public this year?

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  25. "Anonymous said...
    "He scored a 63 on the PRE LAS (Language Assessment of Spanish, I think..) which categorized him as "Limited Spanish Proficient". The assessor was super nice, and said the results won't give him priority over any other English speaking kid.

    "

Hmm. That was different than last year, where if you scored over 60 you were counted as proficient.
    March 30, 2010 11:51 PM"

    My questions:
    Is it true they changed the proficiency requirement from 60% last year to 80% this year?
    (How do we find out out that information?

    If so, what (who?) drove the change? (Mr. Karling Aguilera-Fort, implementing best practices?)

    If true, is the 80% proficiency requirement the same for all immersion languages (Korean, Cantonese, Mandarin and Spanish)…. or is the bar higher for Spanish (and maybe Cantonese) since there are many more native speakers of those languages in SF?

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  26. 12:27 - I think you raise some great questions. These are public schools. Why aren't these policies, and changes to policies, written down somewhere and accessible to the public? How are we supposed to know what is going on?

    I wish there was a parent immersion advocate that was working with the district, consulting about changes and then communicating those changes to the community. (I vote for last night's poster at 7:55).

    Transfers within immersion programs is also an EPC "fast and loose" process, from what I have heard. Not so great for building trust with your constituants.

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  27. "Anonymous said...
    M, did you get in a Mandarin public this year?

    March 31, 2010 11:00 AM"

    We did, although we didn't register, yet. We were told there are spaces at both Ortega and Starr King, and while we will probably choose SK (I have done programs at SK over several years, so have met many staff members and students.... the hours and after-school options work out better for us..... and it is very close to my husband's work), we would also like to check out Ortega a bit more, since it is close to home, and also a great school. (Commodore Sloat is our neighborhood school, but Ortega is probably the next closest.)

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  28. "Is it true they changed the proficiency requirement from 60% last year to 80% this year?"

    I'll clarify. If you got over 60%, you got classed as "limited proficiency", but AFAIK you were still placed in the Spanish-proficient/bilingual cohort.

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  29. "We were told there are spaces at both Ortega and Starr King.."

    I SHOULD have said: We were told there are spaces at both Ortega and Starr King for THIRD grade (if the student is deemed Mandarin proficient).

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  30. So, M, why are you leaving the private?

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  31. AFAIK = As Far As I Know

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  32. Just because everyone at a party was from Las Olas, doesn't mean everyone from Las Olas was at the party ;-)

    And the bar for Peace Corps work is NOT *real* fluency, but being able to get by, communicate basics.

    BTW: One-way immersion programs work at the elementary school level and NOT at the preschool level precisely because the majority of the day is structured, instructor-led activities. There is a big difference.


    Starting a Spanish-immersion preschool to cater primarily to English-speaking families is a GREAT business proposition... as long is the goal isn't that the kids actually be able to speak Spanish by the time they "graduate."

    BTW: Did your CRayon Box kid now in Mandarin Immersion hold on to any Spanish, or is it all gone now? There are a couple of Las Olas kids who ended up not pursuing immersion and their Spanish has really deteriorated.

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  33. Our daughter is notoriously slow to warm with strangers. So we were naturally very nervous about how she might fare at her language assessment last year.

    We got there extra early so she could get acclimated to her surroundings and read books in Spanish to her while we waited for her appointment time. While we waited, she also got to see kids who had just concluded their testing emerge with big smiles on their faces and various coloring pages. I think it really helped her relax.

    The woman who conducted the testing (the Asian Peruvian referenced above) was a real pro and got our girl to feel comfortable with her. She had tested some of our daughter's classmates from Las Olas and referred to them by name ("You must be friends with so-and-so... She was here yesterday..") etc.

    The whole thing was much smoother and easier than we anticipated.

    Happy to answer any questions about our experience, our current school (Alvarado) or our preschool (Centro las Olas).

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  34. Just wanted to jump in and add my name to the list of happy Crayon Box parents. My husband and I don't speak any Spanish, but my big kid is thriving in a public Spanish immersion program and my little one has been at Crayon Box since September. Obviously I have no kind of informed opinion about their language skills, but they certainly sound quite fluent when they are plotting against me in Spanish :)

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  35. I have to say that I would have been really pissed if some of the Spanish speakers in my daughter's immersion K were kids who came from English-only speaking households. That's not a native speaker in the target language.

    Also, the questions on the application about language are also ways in which the district is trying to suss out SES.

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  36. Why are there just not more programs that will teach a foriegn language to English speakers. Why are these programs mostly set up so that most of the class already speaks the language. Why aren't there programs for native English speakers. There being only 9 spots for English speakers comes down to there being only 1 or 2 spots per class (read march 30, 7:55). Once an immersion class gets started there are no spaces for English speakers. Some other system needs to be set up so that English speakers have the partake in immersion programs. Its really just hitting me that going for immersion was just a waste of time and resourses.

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  37. Many kids from the Mandarin immersion preschool Presidio Knolls tested in as Mandarin fluent this year.

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  38. Hi- it is a personal decision (of course) – but I would take the test. My son went to the crayon box and tested proficient in Spanish last year at SFUSD - we don’t speak Spanish at home. (But had a speaking baby sitter before he went to preschool). I do believe this gave him an advantage at getting one of the 1/3 bi-lingual spots (last year it was explained to me immersion would be 1/3 native language speaker, 1/3 bi lingual and 1/3 English speaking). He is at Monroe which was our first choice. I hear him speaking to other kids in Spanish in the classroom and the lunch room all the time- it is pretty awesome.

    We told him about the test the day before and we just told him that someone was going to talk to him, we didn’t make a big deal about it. But honestly it could have gone either way- with any four year old you have no idea how they are going to react to that kind of situation. Good luck!

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  39. "BTW: Did your CRayon Box kid now in Mandarin Immersion hold on to any Spanish, or is it all gone now?"

    Almost all their spoken Spanish is gone: it's what I expected, given the drop-off in my kid's use of Spanish from the second to the third year at Crayon Box, went they went from 100% Spanish instruction to 50%. Don't know about aural comprehension: I'll have to ask the spouse, who's bilingual, to speak to him in Spanish and see how much they retain.

    We didn't do anything to help our kid retain their Spanish: we figured learning Chinese was enough for them to be getting on with.

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  40. "Why are there just not more programs that will teach a foriegn language to English speakers. Why are these programs mostly set up so that most of the class already speaks the language. Why aren't there programs for native English speakers. "

    La Raza.

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  41. "Why are there just not more programs that will teach a foriegn language to English speakers. Why are these programs mostly set up so that most of the class already speaks the language. Why aren't there programs for native English speakers."

    What are you talking about? At least 1/3 the slots are for English speakers (it's been 1/2 in previous years) higher for the Mandarin and Korean programs, and 100% for the one-way immersion at AFY. The fact that these get sibbed out doesn't affect the number of English-speaking slots.

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  42. Why aren't there ANY private schools offering Spanish immersion?

    Clearly there is demand!

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  43. "Why aren't there ANY private schools offering Spanish immersion?

    Clearly there is demand!"

    Hilarious thought - Some of the parochial schools in the mission might consider converting to an immersion model... They could probably double enrollment overnight!

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  44. "Some of the parochial schools in the mission might consider converting to an immersion model... They could probably double enrollment overnight!"

    Some of the parochials (St. Finn Barr, St. Philip) do an hour or so of Spanish a day.

    I remember touring St. Anthony's in Bernal - nice enough school, but low enrollment and really strapped for resources, more so than any public, and underenrolled.

    I mentioned to the principal that Leonard Flynn, which was less than a half-block, was half Spanish Immersion: he was very surprised to hear that. I was surprised that he didn't know what was going on in a public elementary school almost across the street from him.

    I think, based on the demographics, the parochials in the Mission could convert to immersion, but given that they pay less than the publics, they'd have a hard time recruiting and retaining bilingual teachers, unless they upped their fees. Plus their current parents may not want immersion teaching, and given that there's only 1 class per year, you can't have a gradual phase in of immersion or SI/GE split like in the publics.

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  45. off topic - we have a spot at de avila but are not sure we'll keep it. we don't speak cantonese but got lucky in the lottery. i would love to hear from parents who didn't know the target language and also anyone at that school. the parent who gave our tour was fairly stressed out and the principal seems wonderful but young - it's her first job leading a school and not sure the impact. but their PTA certainly seems kick butt. this is also our oldest of two so we would be lucky to get two in, but my partner isn't sure the value of cantonese and getting homework help - the parent who we toured with said her chinese food place helped them. but giving this up seems silly and misguided although we're into a parochial and a private, neither of which have languages as a big emphasis. difficult to know if it'll be more like AFY or other immersion programs but if anyone has guesses, we would love to know.

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  46. "off topic - we have a spot at de avila but are not sure we'll keep it."

    KEEP IT.

    "we don't speak cantonese but got lucky in the lottery. i would love to hear from parents who didn't know the target language and also anyone at that school."

    Extrapolate: The two Cantonese immersion programs in the city (at AFY and West Portal) are academically so good that parents would willingly donate a kidney to get it. It's likely, given the strength of the PTA in a 1-year old school, that DeAvila would follow the same path, especially as DeAvila seems to have taken applications away from AFY this year.

    As for not being proficient in the target language - that's the *point* of immersion. I'm lucky enough to be an AFY parent in the kinder grades, and it hasn't been an issue yet, except in having to be discreet about communicating with teachers in front of the children.

    As for utility of the language - the written language is the same (you've got the traditional/simplified character issue, though), and isn't Mandarin going to be introduced in the upper grades, like it is in AFY in middle school and WP in grades 4 & 5?

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  47. DeAvila parent: Your job is to set aside a time and place for homework and encourage your child to do it. Your job is NOT to do their homework for them. If your child doesn't understand the homework, you talk to the teacher... but they *should* be able to do it on their own. They don't introduce new material in homework, just review what happened in school. If your kid is stuck, that means something isn't getting through at school and the teacher needs to know that, anyway.

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  48. 6:58 am here again:

    An advantage that struck me about DeAvila versus WP or AFY is that it's a dedicated, two-way, immersion school, unlike WP (which has a larger GE strand) or AFY (which is one-way immersion).

    So, you have some chance of Cantonese being used as a playground language. Which would make a big difference to how quickly non-Cantonese speaking kids get proficient. (Cantonese isn't used as a playground language much at AFY: although it is used as the conspire-against-parents language by siblings from non-Cantonese speaking families.)

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  49. 7:50 - is there a lot of speaking in Cantonese etc at AFY and WP among adults 'cause it is easier - but making it harder for parents who don't speak it?

    It's true that their newsletters etc are currently in english only. Thank you for all the input. I'm mainly worried about class size as we have an older kid who is very shy although the younger kid would be fine.

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  50. "7:50 - is there a lot of speaking in Cantonese etc at AFY and WP among adults 'cause it is easier - but making it harder for parents who don't speak it?"

    At AFY, the working language between parents is English. Most parents don't speak Chinese, and a lot of those that do speak Chinese speak another dialect than Cantonese. Events during the school day where the kids are present will be conducted predominantly in Cantonese, but parent events in the evening are predominantly in English with translators for those not fluent in English.

    Newsletters from the school and weekly updates from the teachers are done in both languages.

    Can't speak for WP.

    Does that help?

    As for class size - a larger school might work better for a shy kid, as they're more likely to find a kid on the same wavelength as themselves.

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  51. DeAvila parent,

    We got lucky and my daughter is going to De Avila too.

    Kids learn another language very quickly. I don't think you need to worry about. Although Mandarin is the standard language in China, Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong and Canton (the manufacturing hub of China), and Mandarin will be taught starting at grade 2. So by the end of middle school, the kids should be able to speak both Cantonese and Mandarin.

    In your De Avila welcome packet, there should be a notice about a screening of "Speaking in Tongues", a documentary of SF immersion program. It is tonight at 7 at USF.
    http://www.patchworksfilms.net/coming_soon.html

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  52. i didn't get a de Avila welcome packet, I'd better call! our other possibility is somewhere where i think we would be able to get out of the waitpool - a real non trophy but that parents like and we can go catholic and wait that out if need be. de avila just feels a little lonely from the tour, but i'm sure it is probably good. the neighborhood seems fun too, not as cool for us as parts of the mission but doable. others told us to really try to get off the mckinley WP but that one seems more challenging to get into since it's more popular this year. thank you for all the input!

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  53. "de avila just feels a little lonely from the tour, but i'm sure it is probably good"

    Reading between the lines, I'm going to make the assumption that you're Caucasian and are feeling a bit ambivalent because DeAvila is heavily Asian. I guess there's a couple of responses.

    1. Anglo-Caucasians are a small minority among SFUSD students - about 11-12%. So DeAvila ain't exceptional in there being a small minority of honkies.

    2. It's really not a big deal. My kid one of two non-Asians in his class, and they care more about who's seen 'Avatar' or 'Clash of the Titans' than ethnicity. Given there's an active PTA, there'll be plenty of events to get you friendly with other parents.

    3. As most Chinese and Vietnamese families will have extended family nearby, there's not as much emphasis on playdates (as kids will have cousins in SF or nearby for playmates), so you may have to initiate arranging playdates or excursions. But we've had more birthday party invites than we can handle. So don't fret about feeling isolated.

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  54. 9:04 - thanks for this. I actually had meant that it feels lonely because there are so many classrooms that are empty. But you bring up a good point, I hadn't realized that about extended families. We find playdates hard to initiate anyway since we both work so that might not be so bad. My husband thinks the school is not diverse enough and lobbied to waitlist/Round 2 at Milk and McKinley, which he says are both much more diverse. I think giving a child the gift of a language is incredible and you can't get everything at every school - also the diversity is probably broader than we think at de Avila (who knows from a tour where you are just quickly inside a few classrooms - unfortunately this isn't listed on great schools yet so we haven't found info on this). Apparently the after school Mandarin program at McKinley is quite good, as long as the funding continues. I am not sure how hard it will be to get off that wait list, it looks harder than last year. Thank you for the input.

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  55. I could be wrong, but I think individual families pay their own way for the afterschool language programs at McKinley.

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  56. Oh right sorry families do pay but what I had meant was that the funding/interest continues from the families and I'm assuming the school pays a little. I think it's not inexpensive but great for what you get.

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  57. "Apparently the after school Mandarin program at McKinley is quite good, as long as the funding continues. I am not sure how hard it will be to get off that wait list, it looks harder than last year. Thank you for the input."

    I'm a big fan of McKinley (and it's remarkable how popular the school has become in two years). However, your kid isn't going to get the same proficiency in a language from an afterschool program as they will from 90% immersion.

    McKinley is a great school, and DeAvila looks it will be too. Plus, with DeAvila, you get the opportunity to really shape the culture of the school.

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  58. The school does NOT pay for the afterschool language program. Each family pays.

    And no, you can't actually learn a language that way, but hey, it kills time.

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  59. 9:50 - obviously two hours a day isn't the same as immersion but Clarendon is an hour a day Japanese or an hour a week Italian - so are those useless time fllers also?

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  60. I have a nephew who went to Claredon JBBP. He's in HS now and forgot all his Japanese except some simple words.

    So, yeah, one or two hours per day/week won't help you to learn a language.

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  61. Does anyone know what test they use to assess? Is it the CELDT?

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  62. If the goal is to actually be able to speak the language? Yep.

    If the goal is to appreciate the fact that there are different languages out there, nope.

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  63. 7:30pm
    We lived in Europe for several years, and all our friends who spoke excellent English had learned it in classes of one hour per day. And they weren't even being taught by native speakers. So it's very possible to learn to actually speak a language this way.

    Furthermore, although immersion education is a great way to teach native speakers of a target language to be bilingual, in the US the results for English speakers are extremely varied, from near-fluency in the target language at best to stumbling Berlitz-phrasebook-level at worst. In a bilingual culture like Quebec both English and French speakers in dual immersion programs become fluent. But there has not been anything like the same result in the US, even with Spanish immersion in areas where that language is widely used.

    I'd encourage you to look more closely at the research on second language learning before dismissing less-intensive programs so casually.

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