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Seeking Better Communication

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Roughly a third of parents with children at the middle and high schools whose first language isn't English have never attended a parent meeting, a Central School District surv

MONMOUTH/INDEPENDENCE -- Roughly a third of parents with children at the middle and high schools whose first language isn't English have never attended a parent meeting, a Central School District survey showed.

And almost 45 percent of elementary school respondents weren't sure how to access their students' state exam results.

Those are some of the findings in a recent survey Central School District conducted of families of students considered English Language Learners.

Districts that receive federal funds to assist ELL students and don't meet education benchmarks must create strategies for general school improvement.

As part of its plan, Central polled all of its families at parent conferences and online for several months through January to learn how best to communicate with them and learn what concepts they're struggling with. Most respondents were ELL parents.

Participation was less than hoped for, said Laura Zinck, Central's ELL specialist. There were 65 respondents at the secondary level and 52 between four elementary schools.

The district has 575 ELL students. Some respondents have more than one child, Zinck noted.

"It gives an overall idea of our strengths and weaknesses," she said. "We also now have some ideas about what resources families are interested in."

One area of concern was whether parents know how it's determined that their child needs to be in an English Language Development (ELD) program.

Criteria includes what language is spoken at home, proficiency tests and interviews with students. About 32 percent of respondents weren't aware of that or what their child needs to know to exit the program.

"That's an area we thought we were doing well in explaining," Zinck said. "We need to try and improve it."

Zinck said it can be a challenge to keep families who struggle with English abreast of how their student is performing, on changes with grading and state policies.

Almost half of the respondents in both surveys didn't know where to find their students' latest state test scores. At the elementary level, 25 percent weren't aware what the results meant.

Thirty-one percent of elementary school respondents don't attend parent-teacher meetings. Steve Tillery, principal of Independence Elementary School, said work schedules make it a challenge for any parent.

Zinck said for ELL families, the problem can be more pronounced because of comfort level when it's not a specific bilingual night.

Communicate directly with teachers was something many respondents asked for in the survey. Zinck said teachers invite that, though there's a need for translators.

Spanish, continuing education information and available health resources are topics middle and high school parents wanted more access to, according to the survey.

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