A California High School Gets Out of “Program Improvement”

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 21, 2008 1 min read
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Larry Ferlazzo, who teaches English-language learners at Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif., testified on his blog this week that it’s possible for a high school with LOTS of English-language learners to make it out of “program improvement” status under the No Child Left Behind Act.

His school did—after carrying the label for several years. (Mr. Ferlazzo indicates it was five years, but Ted Appel, the school’s principal, clarified over the telephone this afternoon that it was four years).

The teachers and staff at Luther Burbank learned of the milestone this week. And, according to Principal Appel, the school did it “absolutely” by not teaching to the test, a point that Mr. Ferlazzo also made on his blog.

“We really focus on instructional strategies and doing as much as we can to develop a rich curriculum,” Mr. Appel said.

More than half of the 1,970 students at Luther Burbank are English-language learners. About a third of the school’s students are Hmong, a third are African-American, and a third are Latino. The school sometimes missed adequate yearly progress goals because of low test scores among English-language learners, particularly after it received 200 Hmong refugees from Thailand a couple of years ago, Mr. Appel said.

But, get this: Mr. Appel believes that the presence of so many ELLs at Luther Burbank actually had a positive influence on the school’s improvement plan. Teachers had to learn how to teach in ways that engaged students and how not to assume students had background knowledge that they didn’t have, he said. He said that such a shift was beneficial to “any kind of struggling student.”

Mr. Ferlazzo and Mr. Appel also credit a strategy of creating “small learning communities” of teachers and students as one factor that contributed to the school’s success.

If Luther Burbank had stayed in “program improvement” for a fifth year, it would have had to move into “restructuring,” Mr. Appel noted.

For insight on how hard it is for schools to get out of “program improvement” status or “restructuring,” see a Feb. 14 Education Week article by my colleague Linda Jacobson and a Feb. 11 blog entry by David Hoff about a Center on Education Policy report released this month.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.