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Durango School District 9-R English language learners score high on proficiency assessment

Teacher commitment, student dedication credited for growth
Six Durango School District 9-R students tested in the 95th percentile for their ACCESS English language learner testing compared to other English language learners in the state. (Durango Herald file)

Durango School District 9-R English language learners scored high on the state’s Assessing Comprehension and Communication in English State-to-State for English Language Learners (ACCESS) testing.

ACCESS tests students on English used in an academic setting rather than conversational English.

“It’s really measuring their understanding and use of academic English in the content areas,” said English Language Development Specialist Kira Cunningham. “It tests students on the language used in math, science, social studies and language arts.”

When compared to English language learners across the state, the elementary and high school students in 9-R performed well on tests from the previous school year, according to results released this fall.

The Colorado Department of Education uses three categories to rate test results in relation to the state median growth percentile: approaching, meets and exceeds.

Durango High School English language learners’ growth on ACCESS was in the “exceeds” category scoring 23.5 points above the state median. Elementary School English language learner test results met standards for growth scoring 10 points above the state median.

Six Durango students individually showed exceptional growth on ACCESS in 2022. They ranked at or above the 95th percentile compared other English language learners across Colorado, making them some of the top students in the state in English language proficiency growth.

Cunningham said the results highlight the hard work and success of students working across multiple languages and cultures on a daily basis.

She also said their high growth is a testament to the effectiveness and commitment of the teachers who work with the English language learners.

“Over the years, we’ve really tried to make sure that our everyday instruction is really targeted so that we’re providing English language development support directly to every single student,” Cunningham said.

English language development teachers design instruction to help students progress their English skills for specific settings. For example, in argumentative discussion or writing, students must be able to develop logical thoughts and phrases to present their argument clearly.

“If you're giving a counter argument, it’s all of the language that compares and contrasts ideas or provides reasons behind a claim you’re making,” she said.

Research conducted by the district shows it takes four to seven years to fully learn a complex language like English. Cunningham said it can take up to 10 years for some if their learning has been interrupted.

School can be strenuous for English language learning students because they must learn another language in addition to the curriculum the district requires.

The school district has made language justice an initiative this year through its Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Plan with events such as Escuela Para Padres.

“These students are exceptional because they’re learning two things at once, while their English-speaking peers are learning just one content area,” she said. “This growth and the progress that they're making is really worth celebrating.”


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