The current reality for public educational institutions in Texas is the new assessment tool used by the state, STAAR / EOC. The test has raised the bar in terms of what students need to be proficient in by the time they graduate from high school. With the change of assessment, there must come a change in the way instruction is provided.
As if that weren’t enough of a challenge, the rapid growth of the Limited English Proficiency (LEP) student population in Texas coupled with the increased federal requirements have resulted in an increased need for language arts and other content teachers to understand the unique needs of the LEP students in their classes. Donna High School is no stranger to either of the above mentioned obstacles. Proximity to the Mexican border has had a huge impact on the influx of recent immigrant students.
Like any other educational institution, it is the responsibility of the district and campus to provide the new and current students with a quality education that increases their academic achievement. Data Analysis Because there is only one high school in Donna ISD, it is inevitably the largest campus of the district accommodating a total of 2,253 students, As shown in Table:1, the grade level breakdown is as follows: 36 retained 9th graders, 748 10th graders , 758 11th graders and 711 12th graders.
There is an even distribution of students within the grade levels except for the 9th grade, due to the fact Donna ISD has a separate campus for all ninth grade students of the district apart from Donna High School (DHS). Student demographics of DHS are similar to most other secondary schools in the Rio Grande Valley. The greater part of the student body is Hispanic consisting of 99. 3%. Of the 2,253 students, 2,133 are economically disadvantaged, 94. 7%, as shown in figure: 1, revealing that the area served by Donna ISD is predominately poverty stricken, living in neighborhoods that lack basic lumbing, sewage and heating services. Furthermore, many residents are recent immigrants with little or no knowledge of the English language. These students are part of the LEP population along with other native born students. As shown in figure: 1, 15. 3% of the student population in DHS is LEP. In addition to the previous, Figure: 1 further reveals in the AEIS data reports that 1. 729 students (76. 7%) are considered to be at risk. Donna High School employs a total of 226. 6 employees, out of which 170. 4 are teachers (75. 2%).
As with the student demographics, Table: 2 shows the teacher ethnic diversity is similar. The majority of the teachers, 84. 5%, are Hispanic. Other ethnicities represented are 9. 0% and 5. 9% Asian. In terms of gender, teacher population is evenly distributed, 51. 0% males and 49. 0% females. The experience level of teachers varies greatly. A little more than half of the teachers, 67. 2%, have between 1-5 years of experience. The next largest group, 34. 8%, is the teachers with over 20 years of experience. For the 2011-2012 school year, TEA rated Donna High School Academically Accredited.
This rating is not the most favorable to receive, because this clearly demonstrates the need for the campus to improve in several academic areas. As a campus Donna High School showed a minor improvement as a campus only by increasing1-2 percentage points (Science 83% -84%, English 90%-92% & Social Studies 95%-96%) but decreased in their math scores. Table: 3 gives a synopsis of the campus results for the school year 2011-2012 compared to that of 2010-2011. When the data is segregated into the different populations of interest for accountability both at the state and federal level, a clearer target population can be addressed.
The LEP group showed an increase in almost every subject area by four percentage points, except in reading where LEP students showed a slight decrease by three percentile points. Statement of the Problem After looking at the various subjects and each student group in each subject, the special population with the greatest need for improvement is the LEP population. This population decreased in reading by three percentage points. This same group is also the only one that had improved scores in math, science and social studies unlike the rest of the campus.
As English language learners, the LEP students have limited academic vocabulary, and it is evident that their English language acquisition is limited if at all present. These assessments require the ability to read and understand the English language, and their struggles with acquiring the language is definitely a contributing factor. The campus should focus on the type of instruction provided to this population of students because it is the largest sub population found on campus and it overlaps into many of the other sub populations.
It can be assumed that if target instruction is given to the LEP students, then the majority of the student body will benefit from the implementation of new strategies. In addition, their low scores in a major content area make them a critical group to target for federal and state accountability. Different Approaches to the Curriculum Several strategies that target LEP students have been introduced through staff development to the teachers at DHS. A recent technique being implemented is Kagan structures.
Research has proven cooperative learning as a useful tool to help improve student achievement (Kagan 2009). “Research studies demonstrate cooperative learning boosts achievement at all grades and in all academic content areas” (Kagan 2009). These structures can be used by all subject areas. What I have found as a teacher is that many students are hesitant to participate in the structures because they don’t feel comfortable with the language. Many times teachers become frustrated with the lack of involvement and give up rather than find ways to motivate students to participate.
Training provided at staff development workshops has been useful to some degree, but they don’t usually offer ideas about how to motivate the unwilling participants that teachers have in their classrooms. Another strategy recently introduced is the buddy system, Students With Ideal Mentors (SWIM) system. Students are buddied up with a teacher, who will helpthem with things such as one on one tutoring in the different subject area. Mentors will meet with their mentee once or twice a week and monitor their progress in all classes, offering assistance or motivation and tutoring.
The program aims to help students feel the support by the staff throughout the year. Unfortunately, this is not a volunteer basis program, and some staff views the mentoring program as just an added assignment to their hectic workload. Because of this, students are sometimes not helped throughout the year, and their lack of support shows in their achievement levels at the end of the year. Additionally teachers are made mentors without having proper training on how to be an effective mentor. I think this is why many of them are reluctant to wholeheartedly become immersed in the program and help the students in need.
Conclusion In order to help the LEP group improve on their assessments, teachers, along with all the other staff on the campus have to be willing and well trained. In terms of the Kagan structures, the staff was well trained, but administrators need to make an effort to conduct walkthroughs and confirm that the structures are being used on a daily. They need to hold the teachers accountable. If administration is providing the training, then teachers must implement, and the administrators need to monitor their use in the classroom.
With so much research supporting these structures and with Donna High School not achieving noticeable results, the conclusion can be made that someone is dropping the ball. Everyone needs to support and help each other. If one teacher is unsure of how to use a structure, then they can feed off, of other ideas, but when no one is using them, then there is no one to feed off of. In terms of the mentoring system, maybe it should be on a volunteer basis, because there was some positive feedback from the students and teachers who were willing to put in the work.
Students who were borderline failing or unresponsive to work in classrooms, benefited greatly after having the mentors turn their act around, and the students experienced success in most if not all their classes. Those teachers who are willing will be there for their students and give them all the support they require. We should not pair up students with unwilling staff, the last thing students need is an adult with a negative attitude, and all that would create is more resistance from the child to academic responsibilities.