Spanish language program reviewed
More class time needed, say board members
The Baltimore County school system has extended the amount of time elementary students spend in Spanish class as part of a pilot plan to eventually introduce Spanish to all students.
For the past two years, 4th and 5th graders in participating schools have been spending 25 to 30 minutes a week in class with a Spanish teacher, and this year 5th graders will spend 50 minutes, according to administrators.
Still being considered by the system’s curriculum committee is whether to also extend the extra time to 4th graders, said Verletta White, the system’s chief academic officer, at the Board of Education meeting on Sept. 27.
Administrators and the board are considering a recommendation to extend the time by the system’s consultants, the Center for Applied Linguistics, which presented an evaluation of the pilot program’s first two years at the meeting.
The Baltimore County school system has set a goal of providing more foreign language classes to help students better compete in a global economy. Right now, students typically start learning a second language in 7th grade.
During the 2014-15 school year, the system introduced its Spanish Passport pilot program for 4th and 5th graders in 10 elementary schools.
The program was continued in the 10 schools the following year, with the addition of 15 more schools offering Spanish to 4th graders.
The pilot program includes the 25 to 30 minutes a week in class with a Spanish teacher and also sets aside another 40 minutes a week for student access to an online computer program developed by Middlebury Interactive Languages (MIL).
The evaluation by the the Center for Applied Linguistics was based on surveys, interviews and classroom observations at 10 of the participating elementary schools, including Bear Creek in Dundalk, Glenmar in Middle River, Sussex in Essex and Vincent Farm in White Marsh.
The consultants concluded that overall, the program made progress toward preparing student to study 6th grade Spanish, which not only requires a knowledge of basic grammar but also how to use the language.
Students reported liking the lessons, and the consultants said the five Spanish teachers were doing a good job of speaking Spanish for much of the class and presenting words in context, a method that has been proven more effective than teaching in English.
However, the consultants noted that not all students spent a total 40 minutes online because of the short transition time between classes and time booked on computers by other programs.
Students and teachers also reported having problems with computer head sets not working.
Student work in grades 4 and 5 has not been graded so far, but the plan is to introduce proficiency tests this year, according to the consultant.
Several school board members noted the enthusiasm of the students and the good work of teachers, but others said that more time needs to be scheduled for instruction.
“When I go around and talk to students, they can barely say Hola and ¿Cómo estás?,” said board member Mariole Johnson. “It’s definitely not enough time for anyone to be proficient by 6th grade.”
“If the county moves forward with this, it can’t be just a sprinkling in where we can,” she said. “[Students] can’t learn anything consistently when practicing on and off 30 minutes per week.” Member Michael Collins agreed. “The kids are not learning Spanish to any significant degree,” he said. “There’s simply not enough time.”
Collins said the program has taken some baby steps forward but that more needs to be done if the system expects to eventually graduate more bilingual students.
The state requires two years of a foreign language to graduate from high school, White said.
Baltimore County system, however, has also opted to schedule language classes in middle school and is now offering the pilot program in elementary school.
“Beginning in the 4th grade gives them a leg up,” said White about the early exposure to the language.