Taking children who speak 60 languages and teaching them in English well enough to meet state standards is the challenge East Maine Elementary District 63 faces every day.
And the district has been meeting that challenge well across its schools in Niles, Park Ridge, Des Plaines, Morton Grove and Glenview, according to a "State of the Distict" presentation Wednesday.
But the challenge will soon get harder. The Illinois State Board of Education is requiring districts to move to a Common Core curriculum, which is more academically challenging and puts more emphasis on thinking and analytical skills.
Earlier: District 63 faces challenges
"It's another layer for our English language learners," said Dr. Scott Clay, superintendent, indicating the students will have to acquire those skills at the same time many are learning English.
One-third of students enter not speaking English
Thirty-five percent of the district's students enter school not speaking English fluently, according to the State of the District report. This ranges from a high of 51 percent of students at Apollo School and 45 percent at Stevenson School, both in Des Plaines, to 43 percent at Mark Twain School in Niles, 35 percent at Nelson School in Niles, 32 percent at Melzer School in Morton Grove and 31 percent at Washington School in Glenview.
By the time they enter Gemini Junior High in seventh grade, the percentage is down to 18, mainly because children who have been in the schools have learned English, Clay said. However, new children who do not speak English may arrive in the district at any age.
District-wide, 25 percent of students enter speaking Spanish, Clay said, and the district transitions them from learning in mostly Spanish in kindergarten to mostly English by about third grade.
The report also indicated students' progress over time. As a class, only 82 percent of students who are in eighth grade this year met or exceeded academic expectations when they were in third grade. However, 98 percent of these students now test at a level meeting or exceeding academic expectations.
In math, 94 percent of these students met or exceeded expectations when they were in third grade; that grew slightly to 96 percent by eighth grade (this year).
The graphics attached to this article and at this link give more information on the testing scores of first through eighth grades.
Clay noted that the district's students were able to deliver these scores even though significant numbers entered school with the disadvantage of not speaking English.
"That speaks a lot to the work we're doing, and the value of training our teachers on working with ELL," he said.
However, the state of Illinois is about to raise the bar. The Illinois State Board of Education is starting up a new set of educational standards known as the New Illinois State Learning Standards Incorporating the Common Core.
According to the ISBE website, "The goal (of the Common Core standards) is to better prepare Illinois students for success in college and the workforce in a competitive global economy."
Clay described the new Common Core standards, which all Illinois K-12 classrooms must implement this year and next, as more academically rigorous.
"It focuses on thinking skills and analytical skills," he said. "Will it present us with more of a challenge? This definitely ramps it up for kids trying to understand English and translating in their heads."
Schools typically see a dip in scores--called the implementation dip--when the program is put in place, and Clay expects to see that temporarily.
Still, he felt that the new standards would help District 63 raise achievement levels.
"I'm very hopeful," he said. "It will take time for kids to get used to a new way of thinking and a new way of testing, but I'm hopeful it will help us in the long run."