Evaluating the Madison Metropolitan School District’s
English Language Learners Programming
Ensuring that Quantity Results in Quality
Former Latino Education Council chair Salvador Carranza
has been pushing the Madison Metropolitan School District
to keep English Language Learning as a district priority.
Salvador Carranza, former chair of the Latino Education Council and a community DLI advocate. “We have many English language learners. The majority of
the English language learners we know are Spanish speakers. But there is also a large number of English language learners who are Hmong. Even though
they may speak English, at home, their parents and their grandparents and their family unit speaks Hmong. And they also require supports to become
proficient not only in speaking, but more importantly in reading, writing and communicating in English. State law requires that if in any school, there are more
than 20 kids who are English language learners and speak the same language, they have to receive programming as a group.”
While the district has several ELL methods that it can choose from, DLI has proven to be one of the most effective in bringing ELLs up-to-par and then having
them join mainstream classrooms as they become proficient in English — and their home language.
During the past decade, DLIs have expanded significantly in MMSD as ELLs have come to represent 28 percent of the student body.
“Right now, we have about 26 dual language immersion programs in the school district,” Carranza said. “And we have two Hmong immersion programs that
were also approved three years ago in the ELL program. One is at East and one is at West. Hmong kids will also have the benefit of maintaining their
language at the same time as they become proficient in English.”
The Office of Multilingual and Global Education was established 3-4 years ago to provide technical assistance and guidance for the implementation of the
MMSD English Language Learner Three-Year Plan. And on July 31, 2019, the Center for Applied Linguistics completed an evaluation of the ELL plan that it
will be submitting to the Madison school board in September.
The evaluation found that MMSD had basically met the quantity part of the plan in terms of setting up the different ELL programs and making them available to
students. But it also found some weaknesses that stymied the growth of the quality of the services.
One of the weaknesses, according to Carranza, is how statistics on students are aggregated that mask the needs of many ELL students.
“Kids who are English language learners may stay there for only one year with the necessary support to become proficient and they move into the
mainstream,” Carranza said. “Once they move into the mainstream, they are no longer English language learners. They are former English language learners.
But as they are proficient, obviously they are performing way better. What happened was the school district aggregated former ELLs with current ELLs,
masking the outcomes. People may think they are doing great. They are doing wonderful. And every time they reported something to the community, they said,
‘See, they are progressing.’ But the ones who were progressing were the former ELLs, masking the results of the kids who actually needed the support.”
According to the CAL report, “students classified as ‘proficient or advanced’ or ‘college-ready’ in the former ELL student group outperformed never ELLs on
the mandatory grades 3-8 assessments (It is important to keep in mind that a third of former ELLs were still not meeting grade-level expectations). The
superior performance of ELLs narrowed around eighth grade.’
In addition, low-income and Hispanic students take 1-1.5 years longer to exit ELL services and 50-75 percent of ELLS in each grade 6-12 have been
classified as ELLS for more than five years.
Carranza wants the data disaggregated because he feels that it has led to ELL services becoming less of a priority.
“DLI and ELL services need to become a priority for the district,” Carranza said. “It’s wonderful what happened with the effort of the district with Black
Excellence, which is absolutely necessary. But ELLs should also be a priority. In the second framework that was actually implemented last year, ELLs are
nowhere to be found in the framework. They are not a priority. They are 28 percent of the school district. Otherwise, all of the talk about excellence and an
equitable institution means nothing because equity is to provide each kid with what they need to succeed. When you are neglecting 28 percent of the kids,
you are absolutely not being equitable.”
The OMGE, the office that provides technical assistance for the implementation of ELL programing, is housed in the Doyle Administration Building. While they
may be the experts in the programming, they are almost like consultants who are “guests” of the schools where ELL programming is located. It is the
building principal who decides what goes on in their buildings and must, in essence, give the OMGE staff permission to work with their teachers and staff.
While the OMGE staff may feel certain training, resources and consultation need to occur with the ELL program staff, it is the principal who must give the
okay for it to happen.
The pedagogy for DLI and other ELL programs is sensitive and complex and training is needed to make sure it is implemented correctly in order for it to be
“When there was the opportunity for training, they trained some teachers, but then some principals weren’t allowing — because they felt that they knew better
— the implementation of the programs like they were supposed to be implemented,” Carranza said. “When they offered support — the Office of Multilingual
and Global Education — some principals said, ‘No, I don’t need you. I know what I am doing’ even though the fact is that for all 26 DLI programs, only three
principals in three schools have bilingual certification. They are not looking at the need to have principals who have experience and knowledge about how to
work with these kids academically. What kinds of programs are out there that will help them? How can we move them forward? What kind of advice can the
principals give to their teachers and take the resources of the OMGE and say, ‘Yes, we want you to help us. We want you to partner with us.’ That is not
Carranza feels that having bilingual staff, from bilingual resource staff to principals, present in the buildings is crucial in order to have effective
communication between parents, students, staff and teachers.
“Bilingual specialists are very important,” Carranza emphasized. “We need principals who can also speak the language. What happens is the parents who
have the ability, when they have a problem, where do they go? To the principal. If parents can’t speak English, they aren’t equitably treated. The person who
they have to approach is the bilingual resource specialist who has limited authority or ability to change things. I have an anecdote with my wife. When she
was the principal at Midvale, which is incidentally still one of the schools where the principal actually has bilingual certification, the first time Spanish-
speaking parents came to the school, my wife came out and welcomed them in Spanish. They were totally amazed. ‘Who are you?’ ‘I’m the principal.’
‘Really?’ They thought the principal up to then was the bilingual resource specialist because that is the only person they had been able to talk to in Spanish.
That’s not fair."
During the upcoming school year, the MMSD Board of Education will be conducting a national search for a new superintendent to replace Dr. Jen Cheatham
who resigned this summer to take a position with Harvard University. Carranza and other Latino community leaders hope that ELL program knowledge and
experience will be something the new superintendent will need to have.
“One of the things that I would like to see is when the new superintendent comes, absolutely, it has to be someone who understands that the population of
kids that we have in the program is someone who actually understands language acquisition, at least ESL,” Carranza said. “What does it take for a kid to
become proficient in English so that they can really move this thing forward as a priority? We ask that when the search committee is put together that we
representation from our community as well to do that.”
It is a crucial moment in MMSD history to ensure that all students receive a quality, culturally-relevant education.
By Jonathan Gramling
The Madison Metropolitan School District first utilized dual language immersion (DLI)
programming as one strategy to meet the needs of English language learners (ELL) back in
2004 with the approval of the Nuestro Mundo Community School, an instrumentality charter
school first housed at Frank Allis Elementary School and as it grew to a full six grades, K-5
where most instruction was in Spanish the first three years and then transitioned to English
by grade 5, it eventually was housed in its own school building on Dean Road in Monona.
The number of ELLs — students where English is not the language used in the student’s
household — has grown significantly over the past 15 years with students coming to
Madison from Latin America, but also from Africa, Asia and Europe resulting in many
languages being primary household languages.
“In the Madison school district, there are about 40 different languages spoken,” said