Suburban language program faces scrutiny

Updated 2/11/2015 5:49 PM

A suburban school district's English as a Second Language program faced scrutiny Wednesday from state education officials, who argued it doesn't meet Illinois standards.

Marquardt School District 15 in Glendale Heights asked the Illinois State Board of Education for approval to continue using a teaching strategy that doesn't offer students formal reading and writing instruction in their native languages.


The district is offering English language learners "support" in the student's native language instead of formal "instruction."

That method doesn't meet Illinois standards, state board officials argued, but Marquardt Superintendent Loren May said he's seen improvement in his district's students since starting the program in the 2012-2013 school year.

"We have data that goes back for a couple years that shows our growth is accelerating," May said.

Board members agreed they like to see students making progress after May presented them with data. But board members unanimously denied the district a waiver from state standards, saying they were uncertain the district was delivering adequate instruction in English learners' native Spanish.

"We've had parents come to us, we've had teachers come to us, teachers who are in the classrooms, saying they are not allowed to teach in a different language, which is wholly against the state and federal civil rights law," Aaron Siebert-Llera, an attorney for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said.

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May argues that the program he is implementing now does provide instruction in Spanish. He says the data his district has collected shows an accelerated rate of students' learning English, demonstrates academic growth and follows state criteria for inclusion of native language instruction.

"We use that instruction as we see necessary, which is what we think makes sense," May said.

District 15's ESL program serves 23 percent of the district's students.

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