Hollister School District makes gains with English learners

Local schools surpass state and county in reclassifications

The Hollister School District has made significant improvements over the past year with reclassification of English learners and reducing necessary interventions for struggling students. 

The district reported eight of 10 schools showed improvements with students moving out of needing academic interventions. Meanwhile, a growing number of students—more than the state average—have been reclassified from the English learner designation that often leads to academic hardships, reported Caroline Calero, director of educational services for the district. 

A significant tool to support the trends has been the district’s use of a localized assessment system for reading and math that more frequently measures student growth in key areas, thus giving educators more accurate, timely information about individual student needs to help make improvements. 

The district measures growth in grades 3 through 8 and does so three times a year through these local assessments, Calero said. 

“We can look at student growth, isolate student needs and begin to intervene when needed,” she said. 

Calero noted how with the improved process, parents and teachers can tap into the individualized student data in real time. That is a “big shift” in how districts assess such student needs. In the past, the district was limited to a single “snapshot” from testing once a year, and those assessments and relevant data changed from grade to grade. There wasn’t anywhere near the continuity of the localized assessments. 

“We have a single system vertically up and down that we can all use,” Calero said. “We’ve shifted to a point in time where we can look at our district and our schools and our students over time, year to year, trimester to trimester using a single measure for growth.” 

Calero mentioned that districts are allowed to use local or state measures. The state has its standardized test every year in the spring. In the midst of the pandemic, the state started allowing districts to use localized assessments that are deemed viable. The assessments are developed by companies recommended by the state. 

She said it has led to “diagnostic-level” information about individual students. 

“There are probably 35 different types of ways you can look at the data,” Calero said, noting how educators can pull a variety of reports to help pinpoint trends. 

The district is pleased with the results while classifying a higher rate of students out of the English learner designation and reducing its need for interventions. 

“Our teachers are doing an amazing job,” Calero said. 

When it comes to English learners being redesignated as “Fluent English Proficient,” the following data show a positive trend: 

– HSD’s reclassification rate is higher than the state and the county for the first time on record going back to 2011-12. 

– Three years ago in 2018-19, the state rate was 7 percent higher than the Hollister district. HSD is now 1.2 percent higher than the state. 

Calero also pointed to an impactful change in October 2019 when the reclassification process was revised so that all students who are eligible for the change, based on state- and board-approved criteria, go through the process as opposed to waiting for reclassification referrals. 

“All districts really need to have a local assessment model to provide checkpoints for students throughout the year,” Calero said. 

Calero said the district does monitoring of progress over time, and repeatedly. The goal is to prevent students from slipping through the cracks. 

“It’s very relevant. It’s real time. It’s usable data,” she said. “We are working hard to close those achievement gaps that exist.”

That helps with the interventions—which are targeted, individualized instruction to move students to a level where they can be within their designated grade level range, she said. Intervention teachers work with general education educators and instructional aides while maintaining an intervention schedule. 

There’s an important reason why it’s crucial to intervene earlier in a child’s school years. For instance, students need to be reading by the end of third grade, or it’s a really tough climb, Calero emphasized. She noted how while 80 percent of district schools showed improvements, for instance, Rancho Santana School had a 10 percent decrease alone. 

“We are doubling down, big time, on early literacy here,” she said. “The reading scores, even just in our first year, are showing that it’s helping.” 

Putting the English learner progress into context, the efforts have resulted in about 115 students being reclassified in that period, and there are over 1,000 English learner students in the district. Calero said 43.3 percent of reclassified English learner students this April tested at proficient in reading and 58.9 percent at proficient in math. They are outperforming their peers in both reading and math. 

This all means it has been a successful period with regard to making progress in closing the achievement gap. 

“We have a long way to go but we’re making progress,” Calero said. “Our teachers and school administrators are to be commended. As students return to in person instruction, our students are making progress.”

Jennifer Miller sees it firsthand as the English language coordinator for the district. She called reclassification the “driving force behind everything I’m doing.” 

“Reclassification can change the trajectory of a student’s life,” she said. 

She emphasized how reclassified students not only speak well in English, but they’re also inherently fluent in their primary language as well. 

She is particularly proud of the district’s progress in this area. 

“It really is one of our shining accomplishments this year,” Miller said.