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Innovation: English-as-a-Second-Language Kindergarten

The Burnsville-Eagan-Savage school district in Minnesota is offering English-language learners a half day of kindergarten taught by an English-as-a-second-language teacher in addition to a regular half-day of kindergarten with a mainstream teacher.

The new offering is part of an improvement plan by the school district to help ELLs meet goals set by Minnesota for accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act, according to Kristina Robertson, who oversees programs for such children in the district. Though the ELLs on average have met the state's goals for making progress in learning English and attaining fluency in the language, they've failed on average to reach the goals set for proficiency in reading and math on regular state tests. Minnesota requires districts to have a school improvement plan focused on English-learners if a district hasn't met the goals for those children for two years in a row, which is the case with this particular school system.

The additional half day of ESL kindergarten is one component in the improvement plan for ELLs. Another component is to have teachers receive training in Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, or SIOP, which are strategies for how they can work with ELLs in regular classrooms. About 15 percent of the district's 10,000 students are ELLs.

Before this school year, an extra half day of kindergarten was offered only to pupils whose parents wanted to pay for it or got scholarships for it. Robertson said that parents of ELLs often didn't seem to find out about the scholarships and enroll their children for an extra half day.

This school year, the district began financing the extra half day. The ESL kindergarten focuses on English language, academic concepts, and socialization.

This was the first time, actually, that I heard someone in a district describe to me an improvement plan designed especially for English-learners to meet the Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives, or AMAOs, under NCLB. I learned about the plan in an article published in the Savage Pacer.

If others of you have separate improvement plans in your district for helping ELLs to meet AMAOs, tell us about them here on this blog.

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