Lydia Stack


Lydia Stack.  L-Y-D-I-A  S-T-A-C-K.

San Francisco Unified School District. 

I don’t like it.  How about administrator?  Administrator for the Bilingual Education and Language Academy which is a unit of the San Francisco Unified School District.

OK.  Um, assessment is such a huge topic.  Um, in San Francisco what we’ve been trying to do is look at the proficiency level of students, say from beginners to intermediate to, uh, advanced and transitional.  Those are the four levels that we have, um, in San Francisco.  And one of the questions was, really in this time of high stakes testing, when is it possible for students to take a standardized test?  At what proficiency level?  Or what skills and knowledge is it that students need to have in order to be able to tackle a, uh, proficiency test?  Um, so to help answer that question, we designed something called the Language and Literacy Assessment Rubric and this rubric assesses stu--it’s a--it’s a rubric where teachers collect evidence and then check off on the rubric skills and knowledge that the students have and so what happened was my husband and I decided to take a look at that and research whether that, um, matches with our proficiency levels.  That is, the students that are the beginning students, are they scoring the lowest on a profi--a standardized test?  And then the intermediates, would they score the next high and so on.  And, um, our research proves that teachers are fairly uniform in their, um, assessment of students.  That is, those students that scored the lowest on the proficiency, um, assessment tool that we use also score the lowest on the standardized test.  And the next highest and so on up the ladder so that, um, we have a fairly good correlation.  What was also very encouraging about this was that, um, with very little professional development for teachers they seemed to have an underlying understanding about proficiency levels of students that does correlate very well with., um, standardized testing.  So, we seemed to get the best information on students that are scoring at the high intermediate to advanced level on our, um, assessment tool which we call the LALAR, the Language and Literacy Assessment Tool.  So that’s some of the work that we’ve been doing in, um, lan--trying to align standardized testing with, um, a proficiency, uh, tool which we call the rubric.

This--the instrument that is used in California in all public schools is the Stanford Nine which assesses language arts, math, um, some grammar which--which they call, uh, language, um, but pretty much that’s--those are the areas.  There also in California are some augment--um, augment test--tests--augments--I don’t know why they call them that but they do, um, these are tests set in the area of science and social studies.  They were developed for California, uh, but they also are, uh, discreet point tests which means, you know, you bubble in the answers.  Um, but that’s an assessment tool that all students in California take.

We’re looking for research that will say when is it that we’re getting valid measure, um, on the standardized test because we know that from students’ scoring in the beginning levels really you’re not measuring their content knowledge over here on this Stanford Nine.  If they don’t have the language to read the test, then what do you have?  You have nothing.  So what we want to be able to say to the state legislature is, ‘Where is it that students should be in an--in, uh, in a performance level assessment, um, before they can take the standardized test so that you’re getting valid and reliable information?’  Because the state--um, well the--the--the legislature said that all students irregardless of--I mean, of their, um, proficiency level will take the standardized test and, um, what happens very--for most students is they bottom out.  Um, they’re getting very low scores and then the students get blamed for scoring very low on this proficiency--I mean--I’m sorry--on the standardized test, but really th--they’re not, um, even taking the test because they can’t read the test.  So we really wanted to know where is it that when they’re on a continuum of proficiency level assessment they need to be in order to say yes you’re getting a valid score on this standardized test and, um, that’s what we’ve been looking at.  Uh, we haven’t got a definitive answer, but we have a range and we know that the students that are definitely at the high--at--somewhat in the intermediate to high intermediate level, um, and the advanced level are truly being tested when they take a standardized test.  Before that, you can’t say whether you’re getting content information or whether they’re not being able to do the test because of language.  That’s...

The language test does, um, oral, reading and writing.  So, it’s actually not a test, it’s a--an assessment rubric.  Um, teachers work with students, they then, uh, collect evidence into a portfolio which is then, um, marked, um, and recorded so it’s a observational tool based on student evidence.

There’s some vocabulary in there.  Right.  Vocabulary is measured, um, not objectively measured.  None of this is objective, it’s all subjective and that’s why I started when I started and said that, you know, the teachers were worried that, oh, this is too ob--subjective, you know, what one teacher says is not going to be in line with another teacher over here and that’s not--what our research has shown is that that’s not true.  What happens is there’s some kind of knowledge base that teachers share so that if you say this student is a beginner and then I test him on this other exam, it’s true.  Um, they’re going to score at the lowest level and so on, you know, on up.  Um, there’s a very good correlation.  The correlation starts to fall apart in high school and we’re not sure why.  Um, could be that there are more demands, um, in high school.  Could be that the high school teachers are looking for different things in their students.  Um, we’re not sure why the correlation isn’t strong in high school, but, um, it isn’t.  So.

Supposedly, um, these tests are testing their content knowledge in the area of reading, language and math, um, and we think that until they can--they know enough English you’re not getting a valid score on the standardized test in reading, language and math.  So, that’s why we have this proficiency rubric on one hand and the standardized test on the other and we look to see if, um, we could get--uh, uh, the way we wanted to validate out proficiency level, really, was to look at the standardized testing score and what happened was exactly that.  The, um, kids that scored the lowest on the proficiency test, scored  the lowest on the standardized test and the ones that scored the next highest, um, scored at the intermediate level on the, um, proficiency test, so on.  So.

OK.  A Newcomer  School in San Francisco is a school that, um, takes in immigrant children.  Um, in our definition these are students who have never been to the school in the U.S. who, um, score at a beginning level in terms of their  English proficiency, um, and who may need help adjusting to American schools and the way that we go to school.  So students who come to Newcomer--in San Francisco we have, uh, three elementary Newcomer centers.  We have, um, the Mission Education Eenter, Chinese Education Center and Philippino Education Center because in those levels we, um, provide bilingual education.  And then we have the high school, um, Newcomer High School which is mixed language groups, but also provides some bilingual education in the area of, um, social studies and math.  So that students in the high school level get three hours of  English, an hour of math in their primary language, an hour of social studies in their primary language and then an elective.  So their six-period day is four of those periods in English, two of those in the primary language.  Um, in addition those schools provide a strong transition between, um, their first country and U.S. public schools.  There they learn about high school graduation requirements, um, any physical problems, mental problems that are encountered are dealt with immediately.  If they need glasses, if they need, um, hearing aids, whatever kind of, you know, things that would help them better, um, in school are also taken care of in that setting.  And then when the students are at--hopefully up the next level of proficiency, um, that is an intermediate level they are transitioned to their regular high schools where they continue their education, continue to get ESL, in some cases continue to get bilingual education.  So the idea behind the Newcomer School is that it is a transition from that first country and culture to the U.S. and the way that we do schools. 

They spend, um, a year, usually, one year, one school year.  That’s not a ca--sometimes it’s a calendar year so that they--let’s say--assume they come in September, they would stay ‘til the following September and then go to the next school.  Um, if they come in January then they will stay January to January so they transition at the semester breaks so that it’s, uh, easier for the receiving school to program them into the new--new classes.

The elementary is more on an annual basis.  So if they come any time during the school year they will stay through summer school and then go to their regular school in September when the next year starts.

That model has been very, very successful in our schools.  We started it in 1979...

(Ms. Stack is asked to start over)

Um, the newcomer model, um, has been very successful in San Francisco.  When we first started the--um, students were wandering--before we had this model we would have newcomers who had no English and some of them had never had any, um, education in their first country and so they would be handed a program card and said, you know, now go to your first period class and they would literally stand there in the halls lost because they didn’t know where to go, how to get there, no idea.  Um, so the schools were becoming very impacted, that is, we had lots and lots of newcomers.  We were receiving something like 8,000 kids a year who were new to the country, non-English speaking and we had to have something that would help transition, especially the students who were, um, completely non-English speaking and so the newcomer pro--program has been very successful.  The students learn English, learn how to move, um, hour by hour to new classes, um, learn about clubs, learn about sports, learn about dances, uh, learn about yearbooks, all of the things that go into a regular high school, um, but they kind of ease into it and they’re very supported as they’re learning all those new--new things.

The Newcomer School has--is based on the philosophy that these students need to, um, have the same core curriculum that the students in regular education have.  The delivery model, however, is very different.  As, um, I mentioned, basically the, um, students receive the content of social studies and math in their primary language if they speak one of the major languages.  For instance, Spanish, Cantonese, Mandarin, uh, Philippino, Vietnamese.  If they don’t speak one of those languages then we do deliver social studies and math in English, but using, um, sheltered English techniques and content-based instruction.  So, they get a--the same content, but delivered in a, um, a much more, um--I want to say user friendly, much more comprehensible way.  The, um, English that they receive is all interactive.  Um, the classes are language development, reading and writing.  So that we try to prepare students for the academic tasks that they will be receiving in the regular high schools.  Um...

The newcomer program has a strand within it for preliterate students, um, students without literacy in their first language.  Those students are put into a self-contained model, that is, they spend, with the exception of going for P.E. or an elective, they stay with the same teacher all day long so it’s more of an elementary model.  Um, they are given initial literacy in their first language, if we can do it in our school that was in Spanish or, um, Chinese.  But if we couldn’t do that then we started, um, English literacy as soon as the students had enough English to begin, um, reading.  And so it looked very much like a--a--a beginning reading class that you would see in a lower elementary grade.  Um, there is a special curriculum for the preliterate students, um, and it’s very successful.  One person, um, one student that I had--I taught that course for a number of years at Newcomer.  One of the girls that I had in my class started in the preliterate program.  She was from, uh, highlands of Mexico and she had never had the opportunity to go to school because she was so far away from, uh, any school.  But she came in, she did extremely well.  Um, the second year we moved her to the regular ESL program.  Um, when she left us she went to a high school and, um, on her fifth year she was the president of the student body at that high school.  So, clearly some of these students can do extremely well, um, gis--given the opportunity to learn.

For the preliterate program we have developed our own literacy materials.  Um, these are some materials that begin with basic alphabet, um, how to hold a pencil, how to write your name, how to do your numbers, etc.  Um, that moves very quickly into, um, materials that are based on looking at story boards, uh, stories in sequence and developing sequential skills, main idea skills, those kinds of cognitive skills that go with reading at the same time that the students begin to read very simple sentences, um, and develop story lines along the same way. From there they  begin to read those very simple books, um, that may have one picture and then just a sentence underneath it.  For instance, uh, I’m thinking of one that says desert and then it says, um, in the desert there are many ways for plants and animals to store water.  And it says a plant stores water in its leaves.  A camel stores water in its, um, hump, etc.  So they’re repetitive sentences, maybe changing one or two words and then the students learn to read those, um, those very simple  stories.  From there it moves to, um, books that have a story line, that have a beginning, middle and end, um, and then from there to short novels.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               

Educators face huge, uh, barriers right now in terms of helping students acclimate to, um, all the challenges, especially at the secondary level.  The, um, high school graduation requirements are particularly onerous lately and they’ve become very standardized, at least within California, for instance, starting in 2005 all students will have to pace--pass the same exam no matter when they came into the countries.  So getting students ready to face all of that in order to, um, graduate, um, is a big, big challenge for educators.  We are shifting away from more social language to teaching academic language from the minute students come in.  Um, we also are faced with the idea of trying to develop cognitive skills.  First assessing which skills students do not have and then trying to figure out how we can, you know, develop those missing skills.  Educators are also faced with the idea the--the problem of, um, figuring out how students can, um, develop the vo--high level vocabulary that they’re going to need in order to do well on those kinds of exams.  So this pressure is really mounting at this point, I think, and it’s not just in California, it’s all over, um, the United States.  While we’re trying to help students adjust and learn about the new culture and learn about, um, what they need, they also have to be at this very high level of cognitive development which is, um, a tremendous challenge, both for the teachers and the students.

In San Francisco it’s really helped our graduation rates.

(Ms. Stack is asked to start over.)

The Newcomer School has affected graduation rates, um, greatly in San Francisco.  Basically, it’s given students the confidence that they needed so that when they went to the regular comprehensive high schools, which were considerably bigger, um, Newcomer High School has no more than 500 students at any one time, whereas our comprehensive high schools have 2000 students.  So when they moved from the newcomer school to the, um, comprehensive high school, um, they really learned, uh--they--they had the confidence that they needed to be able to do well, um, in those schools and with confidence came the ability to get through classes and know that they can do it.  Um, one of the things that I think we’ve learned, uh, is that the students do very well and we learned this when the school was under threat of being closed by the board of education a couple of years ago.  And word was put out to students, past students, that basically this was, um, a possibility, that they would close the school and amazingly important people in our community came forward to testify to the board of ed to not close that school.  One of them is now the editor of the Oakland Tribune.  Another one is a, uh--uh a neurologist at Stanford University.  Another one is,  um, a, uh, a politician so people who have come through New--Newcomer High School have gone on to college and have done extremely well and really rallied behind the school when there was a threat that it might be closed, um, and actually because of those people the board of ed decided not to close the school.

Newcomer High School only has students who, um, do not speak English, um, as their native language.  Since we took mostly the students that were in the beginning levels of their language development this was a tremendous advantage to the students because they felt secure knowing that all the rest of the students in the school were in the same boat, that they too were struggling learning their lan--uh, their--learning English, actually.  So, it--um, yes it’s a problem to--in terms of their ability to interact with native speakers of English, um, that they’re a little insecure when they move from our school to the regular high school.  Afraid they won’t be able to hold their own, but they find very quickly that they have the skills, they have the language skills, um, and they have the confidence because they’ve been interacting, um, with teachers and other students at the school, so in a short order they’re able to interact quite well in the regular comprehensive schools so it doesn’t seem to slow them down at all, the fact that they’ve been isolated for one year, um, with just other non-native speakers.  In fact, what it does is give them a lot more confidence when they move into the regular high school.

A curriculum that meets the needs of second language learners is focused on standards.  The teachers need to be aware of the standards for their particular curriculum area and then focus on the standards not the, uh, breadth of what they could teach.  I find many teachers are too focused on just teaching the textbook and that would never work in this model of scaffolding for second language learners.  You need to be very aware of the standards, what it is students need to know and teach that and really what we advocate is that the teachers go indepth into a few units of study, covering all the standards that they need to cover, rather than being worried about covering, you know, this huge breadth of curriculum which, um, you’d never be able to get through if the students, um, are--are limited in their English.

Um, teachers need to have high expectations for--for students and by doing a, what we call backward mapping model, you can be sure that the students are achieving the standards, um, by setting out the standard, then the assessment, thinking about the assessment and then thinking about  (phone begins to ring) what kinds of things you’ll, um, (phone continues to ring).

(Ms. Stack is asked to hold on)

Um, teachers need to hold high expectations for their English language learners and, um, I believe that the best way to do that is through, um, backward mapping and to tell you about backward mapping I’m going to tell you about traditional.  Traditionally teachers, um, designed lessons that started with first having an objective and then they would plan their instructional activities and then they would think of an assessment and after they did the assessment they would evaluate the students and evaluate, um, their lesson and then they’d start all over again.  Um, backward mapping actually starts with standards, so in a sense it’s starting at the same place, um, a, sort of, um, but then what teachers do is assi--is design their assessment.  That is, how are they going to know the teachers--I’m sorry, that students have reached that, um, standard, then you plan your, uh, activities and then you evaluate the students.  So by first knowing what the standard is and then how you’re going to assess that teachers can be sure that the kind of instruction they’re offering is of high quality. 

And thus--yeah--high--so teachers will  know that the, um, instruction that they’re planning is of high quality and that they’re holding these students to high expectations because really what you want them to be able to do is, um, achieve the standards for whatever content area.  So by knowing what the standards are and then assessing to the standards they can be sure that students are achieving, um, a quality education and an equitable education, I might add, because equity is an important part of this also.  A lot of times teachers who, in the past, felt, well, you know, the student’s  limited English speaking, therefore he can’t do the same thing that other students can do.   That’s not true.  They can do the same things, um, they just may not do it in the same way and that’s the thing that teachers really need to understand that you don’t have to have every date in U.S. history to understand the--the Westward movement, for instance, so those kinds of shifts in teachers’ thinking, um, can assure that both high quality and, um, high expectations are achieved.

Um, I think that professional development is a big advantage toward, um, helping teachers understand how students learn and, um, oh, what they’re learning.  And one of the things that we’ve been doing in San Francisco is working with the secondary teachers on academic literacy.  What is it that they need to know in order to help students prepare to better be able to read their textbooks, for instance. Um, and we’ve had some, um, wonderful sessions with Kate Consella (ph) who has helped teachers, um, realize that, you know, doing some advanced organizers around a textbook, um, chapter that is, looking at, um, subtitles, looking at the visuals, reading the headings, um, in anticipation of what’s going to come, really helps students get a kind of frame for being able to read their textbook.  Um, so one of the things that I think teachers are able to do is be, you know, once they’ve been shown how to better manage instruction and instructional materials for their students, they feel more successful and therefore their students also feel a lot more successful.

One of the areas that is most difficult for second language learners is the area of writing.  Um, teachers really need a lot of, um, help in how to help their students, um, improve their writing.  And one of the things that we’ve done in San Francisco is provide teachers with, um, strategies in the form of workshops for, for instance, um, writers workshop and I remember a teacher, um, whose name is Kate who was teaching in a very traditional way.  Um, she would assign a topic, she would then have the students do a draft.  She would take these papers home and dutifully correct them, um, give them back to the students and then, um, the students would take them and wad them up and throw them out or they would just put them in their notebook and  that was the end of it.  So, one of the things that, um, we did was provide her with writers workshop and a whole strategy for dealing with that that was much more meaningful to the students.  In writers workshop what happens is the students choose their own topics because with topic choice comes investment and the students are going to go ahead and, um, learn, um, much more.  Will take the time to do the writing process, do the drafts, you know, first draft, second draft, third draft, so she was a little skeptical, but she decided to set up, um, a writers workshop and so she went in and she told three stories to get her students to, um, believe that they also had stories and then had the students write a list of topics that they might want to write about.  From there the students wrote their first draft.  On their second draft--then, after they write their first draft, they exchange papers and then they write a second draft and then on that draft they have a teacher conference and she was conferencing with the students one on one and no longer was she taking papers home, but she was actually having the students sit right next to her while she was editing with them so she could explain to them why she was changing what she was changing.  Um, and then the students would take that paper and make a final draft and it was the final draft then that was assessed for, um, a grade in the class.  And this changed her whole way of thinking.  She moved from a teacher-centered classroom to a student-centered classroom and the students started to take charge of their own writing and get more interested in, uh, making changes in their own writing and keeping track of the kinds of changes that they made so that’s an example of how, uh, professional development can change a teacher’s, um, whole view of what they’re doing in the classroom.

I think there’s a great deal of change going on in education, um, in the U.S. and that’s affecting our second langauge learners just as it’s affecting our--our regular ed students.  Um, the big change in elementary is a focus on content.  It--before the kinds of readings that--especially ESAL, uh, elementary students did were more narrative.  Students read narratives, they read stories, um, they wrote narratives, um, etc.  And they really never dealt with any kind of content, um, only kind of as a side thing.  Now we see within the elementary school a strong push for content, for exposatory writing just as we see in middle and high school because there was a big disconnect.  Students were doing well in elementary.  They were social--their social language was devleoping well.  They could read and write stories.  They had, um, that type of genre down very well, but then they would be moved to middle school and all of the sudden hit with all this content, all this academic language and they had no way to deal with it.  So I think the pressure, um, from high school graduation tests moving down to middle schools moving down to elementary schools is profoundly changing the way we do ESL and content, um, based ESL is really important at elementary and then especially important at middle and critical at high.

Um, first language literacy is critical to second language literacy.  Um, students who can read in their first language, um, who have developed the cognitive skills of inference (ph), predicting, um, main idea, evaluating, synethis, analysis, do extremely well when they come to the U.S. after maybe one or two years of developing English they transfer all those cognitive skills right over to their English, um, reading and zoom off,  you know.  Those are the students who, you know, in four years become valedectorian and go on to Harvard and I’ve known a few of those students.

One student we had from Taiwan was--was wonderful.  He, um, he had developed all those kinds of--of cognitive skills.  He came in at the tenth grade level.  Um, he studied English.  He was very, very diligent.  He came into the Newcomer School, um, stayed with us for only six months because we could tell very quickly that this student was academically achieving very, um, very rapidly.  He moved on to one of our high schools, um, had taken calculus by the time  he was a--a sophomore, had, um, was in honors, you know, courses and so on.  Um, and then went on, graduated, actually became valedectorian, went on and did go to Harvard.  Um, this is all not because of what we did but because he came in with such highly developed cognitive ability from his first, um, country, from Taiwan.  Um, so literacy, in large part, is a transferable skill.  That is, if you have high literacy rate in your first language, then you come to the United States, once you can acquire enough English you can transfer those skills over and do quite well academically in the U.S.  Um, students who don’t have that, however, must be taught not only English, but the literacy skills to do well academically and that’s a little bit slower process.  Actually, it’s a considerably slower process.  Um, and one of the things that we try and do, when possible, is teach it in the first language so if school--chil--children have gaps in their literacy development, if we can do that in the first language then we see, um, a more rapid growth as their developing English.  We’ re not wasting time.  If we have to do it in English then we still focus on those kinds of skills.  We’re focusing mainly on the, um, vocabulary development that the studetns will need.  We will focus on cognates, if the student--especially if the student is speaking Spanish because a lot of words will help understanding how cognates help, um, help students develop language faster.  Um, we also help them with the other kinds of skills that are needed in reading so that they can then develop, um, you know, transfer those skills when they finally are able to speak English.  So that’s kind of the--the process.  The other thing that you have to build is background knowledge.  Students don’t necessarily come with the same background knowledge.  That’s true for students born here, too.  So developing that background knowledge so that they can, um, understand the content is crucial to, uh, their doing well.

I think it’s important to remember that these students are of, um, very high quality, that just because they don’t speak English doesn’t mean that they can’t think, that they can’t reason, that they can’t, um, do the things that we need them to do in schools.  And one piece of advice for beginning teacher that I always give is that, you know, believe in your students.  Know that they can do more than you think they can do.  Um, they will always surprise you.  If you give them the opportunity, they will do it.  Don’t try and control them, um, so much that you stifle their creativity because these students are highly motivated, highly, um, uh, involved in what they’re doing and they will surprise you every day that you teach them.