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Thursday, May 29, 2008

School officials uncertain over new state English guidelines

By Jennifer Berghom | The Monitor
May 27, 2008

Rio Grande Valley school leaders do not know how new state guidelines for teaching English will affect students.

Some districts say the new standards better prepare students for college. Others say the updates could hurt students learning the language.

School district officials have not seen the new standards adopted by the Texas Board of Education last week, but many expect they will have to make some changes to their teaching plans - but they just don't know what changes, yet.

Some districts remain worried that the updated standards ignore the needs of English language learners and hinder teachers' creativity with their lessons.

Teachers would have to follow a more scripted curriculum, which could include more drilling on grammar and phonics, said Maritza Park, the Donna school district's director for elementary English language arts curriculum.

``It's like we went back 20 years,'' Park said.

After months of arguing and debating different proposals for updated English language arts standards, the approved standards were given to state education board members just hours before they were to vote on the updates. Several board members were outraged they were not given enough time to review the latest proposal, especially after board members were asked to consider at least five different ones since January, according to the Associated Press.

The new standards place a stronger emphasis on grammar and offer grade-specific objectives, said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency.

``I think the standards as a skeleton and the districts have to come up with the curriculum guide. The standards provide the basic bone structure but there is still a lot of flexibility that districts have,'' Ratcliffe said.

The approved updates should be available to the public in a few weeks, as the agency is finalizing the specific wording of the rules based on the board's wishes, she said.

Edinburg's school district is ready for the new standards, said Maria Luisa Guerra, the district's assistant superintendent for instruction and support services. The district began using a curriculum called CSCOPE this year that helps better align lessons from kindergarten though 12th grade, Guerra said. It also is using another program that provides students learning English with more tutoring and monitoring, she said.

The updated standards take effect in the 2009-2010 school year.

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