Three in 10 Oakland students are learning English, and this group of students made big strides in their test scores this spring. Monica Navarro, a third-grade bilingual teacher at Allendale Elementary School (which made a 63-point jump on the state’s Academic Performance Index and met all of its NCLB goals), describes her reaction to the numbers — and tells us what, in her view, is even more important. -Katy
So I was asked by Katy to write about my experience — as a teacher of English learners — to reflect on our test scores going up, or how I might have seen growth and change in my own students that reflect the rise in scores in my own class, or in the school as a whole. It’s been difficult for me to actually sit down and put into writing the many mini-reflections I’ve had over the past year, or even really pinpoint what it was that I wanted to write about.
Then at a staff meeting today, the principal reminded us of the OUSD press advisory listing Allendale as one of the schools that made huge API gains, particularly with English learners. He commended particular teachers whose students made significant improvements in both English and math — and cited my class, which made a 12 percent increase in math and 7 percent increase in English. It was nice to be appreciated and, of course, thrilling that we might actually get out of Program Improvement next year. I actually started to pretend screaming I was so excited.
I have to admit that since that that press advisory came out I have felt pretty proud of our school, and a sense of relief and hope that all the work that teachers have been doing has finally started to pay off. But I felt this sense of non-reaction to the “12 percent increase in math and 7 percent increase in Language Arts” that was a little strange to me, and I wrote it down.
Why didn’t these percentage scores mean anything to me? Is it because I just don’t relate to numbers as easily as I do to words and emotions? It’s true that it takes a little digging to interpret the data. But when I talked to Katy again, I realized that the numbers weren’t really the most important thing here.
The one student that I always think back to, who I feel the most proud of, is a student who still scored in “Below Basic” (just below where we want them) in Language Arts, and I’m not even sure if he made the greatest gains in fluency. He was in the red for the majority of the year, but towards the middle of the year I finally started to see a change in him. His mother and I were struggling to get him to read for twenty minutes a day for homework. She would tell me how he would always say he just didn’t like to read. I would tell her that, in spite of the fact that he had been a slow reader in Spanish last year and now in English this year, he showed a great understanding of the story, and that he would often make really interesting comments because of his wide vocabulary and English language ability.
With the help of many teachers around me, I began trying to figure out what kind of books would motivate him to read, and it became apparent that he was interested in books related to science — plants, animals, rocks, the earth, astronomy — and it helped that we had a part-time science teacher who teaches science exclusively.
It was this effort that had an effect on this student: having many teachers around him who were interested not only in his success, but in his interests and his well-being. Our science teacher, who found him non-fiction books about plants and animals and shared her personal rock collection with him, the behavior management coach who would periodically check in with him just to see how he was doing, and his English language development teacher who told him that she was impressed with his vocabulary.
It was also important for me to remember to give him his moment to shine in front of the class by sharing his elaborate, complex sentences and insights about the text — especially when he was struggling to read the story on his own.
At the end of the school year on a field trip, we were riding the bus and he showed me this book on Greek mythology that told many different parts of the myths and had these pockets with paper gold coins, wings, bows and arrows. It really amazed me how deeply interested he was in this subject, and how much he could learn from this book because it was so hands-on, engaging, visual, and fun. This really confirmed for me that this student was going to succeed despite his test scores — and assured me that he would do better next year — because he finally found the motivation to read and engage with the world.
This is not to say that I would settle for less, or that I wouldn’t learn from this experience. It is only to say that it is teaching experiences like these that clarify for me what is really important, and that have motivated me more than anything else.