It’s not just English anymore in public schools

Not too long ago, the majority of students in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program were Filipinos who recently came to the island, and spoke Ilocano or Tagalog as their first languages.

Editor’s note: This is the first of two stories about the public-school English for Second Language Learners (ESLL) program.

Today on Kaua’i, while most of the English for Second Language Learners (ESLL) students speak Ilocano, Tagalog or Hawaiian, no fewer than 16 languages are spoken in schools here, creating challenges for teachers and administrators trying to deliver instruction to the students.

Hawai’i’s public schools are experiencing an increase in the enrollment of students from Micronesia.

The English for Second Language Learners (ESLL) program provides support to Micronesian students and other students whose native language is not English.

The program complies with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, in programs and activities that receive federal funds, and protects students from not being able to participate in, or benefit from, regular or special-education instructional programs.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights enforces the law, and its representatives will do a federal audit of Hawai’i’s ESLL program next year.

The ESLL program must also comply with Title III: Language Instruction for Limited English Proficient and Immigrant Students of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001.

Ligaya Ortal is the ESLL district resource teacher for Kaua’i. She explained that with NCLB came the need to report the attainment of Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives (AMAO).

Leaders of the programs must show student gains in learning English on an English-proficiency test, the Language Assessment Scales (LAS), and must report the number of students exiting the program.

If the district leaders do not meet the AMAO, school leaders must report to parents, and explain the reasons for students failing to meet the objectives.

Ortal said Kaua’i teachers have done well in meeting the exit objective over the past two years.

State officials are “negotiating” the benchmark for the first objective, which is the number of students gaining in English proficiency.

“Kaua’i has been marked as ‘pending,’ although the Kaua’i data indicates most of our students are gaining in English proficiency,” Ortal said.

If a school has 40 or more ESLL students in grades three, five, eight or 10, results are reported as a group.

The group report must show that students have achieved the benchmarks in reading and math, or the benchmarks will be considered “not met,” and the school officials would fail to meet Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP).

Once school officials verify that a language other than English is spoken as a student’s primary home language, the LAS must be administered within 20 school days.

If the LAS shows that the child is a non-English speaker, than the Native Language Proficiency Test (NLP) must be administered within 45 days from the first day of attendance.

Ortal explained that she can tap a statewide databank of people who can help with administering the various native-language-proficiency tests.

Ortal said the majority of the ESLL students on Kaua’i are Ilokano, Tagalog and Hawaiian speakers. The ESLL teachers and part-time teachers in the schools have been able to provide the bilingual support.

The two ESLL home-school liaisons, Nita Beltran and Ethel Lu Koerte, have been able to assist the Filipino and Hawaiian speakers, respectively, Ortal said.

As the ESLL population grows more varied, Ortal says they have to be “creative” in getting needed support.

The ESLL program strives to provide English as a second language (ESL) instruction, appropriate bilingual support, and acculturation activities.

According to Ortal, ESL strategies “simply mean good teaching” which can be applied to any student. These strategies can especially be applied to our “Creole (pidgin) speakers,” Ortal said.

ESL teachers use whatever resources are available to teach the content. Such strategies include tapping prior knowledge, using real objects, presenting pictures, and building vocabulary.

The strategy Ortal is focusing on is differentiated instruction. She feels it is one way to address the needs of the second-language learner by addressing language development as well as content.

Ortal gave as an example making sure that an ESLL student understands the term “sum” while teaching math.

Research shows that it takes five to seven years to really learn academic English, Ortal pointed out.

If a student arrives with good literacy skills in his or her native language that transfer to English, or if he or she comes from schools where English was the medium of instruction, English-language development is faster.

Once a student scores Fully English Proficient (FEP) on the English-proficiency test and attains grades of C and above in all academic subjects, the student is considered for exit from the ESLL program.

The exit criteria also include content area and regular-education teacher recommendations and Hawaii State Assessment scores, if available. Students who exit are monitored for two years, to provide support.

Bilingual education means using the native language at the beginning to teach content, then gradually using less of the native language and more English, until only English is used.

It is not possible to get qualified teachers in all of the 16 languages spoken by ESLL students on Kaua’i, so bilingual support is given when appropriate and when available.

Ortal said once, they used the father of a Vietnamese student to help with communication.

In terms of acculturation, teachers have many activities to share the diverse cultures.

The annual, island-wide Muticultural Speech Festival high-lights what ESLL students have learned through oratory, choral reading, poetry, story-telling and research-based, culturally-driven, PowerPoint presentations.

The festival has been co-sponsored by leaders of the Oscar and Rosetta Fish Fund of the Hawai’i Community Foundation. This year, Ortal said, they are asking for more co-sponsors to make up for the lack of funding.

Ortal has been an ESLL district resource teacher for about 20 years. She said many things have happened during that time.

She finds the key to a successful program is the open communication between parents and those in the school system.

“Everyone must be willing to help make the student succeed,” she said.

Tomorrow: Marshallese students are having a hard time adjusting.

  • Cynthia Matsuoka, a Lihu’e-based freelance writer, is the former principal of Chiefess Kamakahelei Middle School in Puhi, and writes periodically on education issues exclusively for The Garden Island. Messages for her may be left with Paul C. Curtis, associate editor, at 245-3681, ext. 224, or

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