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Roundup Blog Series

Farmington Municipal Schools’ journey: Implementing an English language development program

Farmington Municipal Schools’ journey blog banner

By Karen Garcia Brown | Mar. 15, 2019

We are pleased to introduce a blog series from our Southwest English Learners (SWEL) Research Partnership. With one of the highest proportions of English learner students in the nation, New Mexico has prioritized providing high-quality and culturally responsive instruction that supports EL students in acquiring English proficiency and mastering grade-level core content. REL Southwest, the New Mexico Public Education Department (NMPED), and other partners are working to support these ongoing efforts. Over the course of the partnership, REL Southwest staff will conduct research, identify evidence-based practices, and develop guidelines for analyzing data to support New Mexico’s priorities.

When NMPED identified English Language Development (ELD) instruction as an area of interest, the SWEL partnership looked into best methods of implementing integrated pedagogical approaches (lessons and practices that support ELs’ language development within subject matter teaching and learning throughout the day and across disciplines) and designated pedagogical approaches (a protected time of day to support the explicit development of English language knowledge, skills, and abilities). Our key state partner at NMPED recommended Farmington Municipal Schools as a leader in ELD program implementation in New Mexico, and we invited Multicultural Services Director Karen Garcia Brown to write a blog post about the district’s experiences to date.

Farmington, New Mexico, is a diverse and culturally rich community. Native American, Hispanic, and Caucasian families make up the highest percentages of the approximate 45,000 residents. Farmington Municipal Schools currently educates 11,795 students at 19 schools or sites. More than 10 percent of students are English learners (ELs) speaking 16 languages, all at varying English proficiency levels.

As we continued to move forward creating instructional systems, we looked at our English learner students through a new lens. The Farmington Model of Instruction (FMI) is our foundation for setting instructional growth goals, instructional planning, and providing targeted feedback. However, close analysis of ACCESS for ELLs, PARCC, and Istation assessment data, as well as district interim data and K–12 classroom observations revealed that purposeful contextualized instruction for our EL students, beyond components (growth goals, planning, targeted feedback) of the FMI, was not a part of daily instruction. Also, when we analyzed disaggregated assessment data such as ACCESS’s EL proficiency growth and attainment data and Istation’s elementary-level reading progress data, we noted our EL students were continually identified as students of “major concern,” at risk for not reaching academic goals on interim assessments and requiring the most repeated and consistent reteaching. A central office focus team determined we had not distinguished the difference between teaching content and teaching language.

Our mission statement for 2018/19 is, “Success Matters: Every Student, Every Day,” and we are determined our English learners are going to be successful. We rolled up our sleeves and got to work. We had to raise the English language proficiency of our English learners with an effective instructional program. We began at the elementary level and determined we would implement the pull-out ELD model or the ELD block as per the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). While content-area learning supports were already in place (such as using graphic organizers and chunking information), scheduling extra time for teachers to teach language in general education classrooms was very difficult. The best remedy was for ELs to leave the classroom for dedicated ELD from trained teachers.

Implementing an effective instructional program

Communication is key when implementing a program, and this was our largest task at hand, especially with effectively communicating the “WHY” to principals, teachers, families, and the community. We were asking principals to add another pull-out in an already crowded schedule. I personally visited with each principal and discussed their school EL data. We created an ELD Committee comprised of three elementary principals, the district’s EL facilitator, executive director of curriculum and instruction, elementary curriculum director, data administrator, and myself. Teacher licenses and school programs were reviewed to ensure staff resources and budgets were aligned. Instructional materials for designated ELD classrooms were purchased from the provider of current ELA materials to ensure alignment of practices and terminology for both teachers and students. In addition, we purchased a program for progress monitoring English language proficiency throughout the year. Professional development for implementing effective ELD instructional programs was scheduled for teachers, special education staff, instructional coaches, and administrators. We began with a two-day retreat in contextualized instructional strategies. Training and support continued throughout the year during early-out days and with our instructional coaches.

We met with the central office leadership team, parent groups, and our local school board. Information regarding our new ELD program was disseminated through the district website and we created a community brochure. Before the new school year began we had to guarantee our office had a strong system for student screening and paperwork flow at the elementary schools. This was the first year ELD teachers would be administering the WIDA Screener, an English language proficiency assessment, at the school sites to determine if students from homes where another language was spoken needed support for developing their English proficiency. In addition, our Language Usage Survey, designed to determine languages other than English used in the home, had become a part of the online registration process, and we needed to make certain front-line staff had the information required to make informed decisions to support the ELD staff and to help parents.

The first year, we implemented the program only in elementary schools, where 775 of the district’s 1,297 ELs were enrolled. ACCESS for ELLs annual assessment data showed strong growth. At the start, eight students were proficient in English districtwide, all of them at the secondary level. At the end of the first year, 49 students were proficient, 41 of these at the elementary level, where the ELD block had been implemented. There was also obvious growth in all domains and levels at elementary. We have now implemented the ELD course in our secondary schools for 2018/19 and are continuing our journey to ensure every student, every day finds success.

REL Southwest looks forward to helping New Mexico districts like Farmington Municipal Schools apply research-based evidence and practices as they develop and implement ELD programs. The next post in this blog series from the SWEL Partnership will be a report on our recent in-person bridge event, Promising and Effective Practices for English Learner Students: Implementing Integrated and Designated ELD. We’ll share resources from the event and news from other New Mexico districts implementing ELD models.

For more information about English Learners, REL Southwest suggests these resources:

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Author Information

Karen Garcia Brown

Director of Multicultural Services

Farmington Municipal Schools