Teachers in Westminster schools will get new training for educating students who are learning English as a second language, and the district will have to create a way to evaluate how they are providing that education.
Those are just two of a long list of changes the district will make after the superintendent signed a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice to change the way Westminster Public Schools educates students who are identified as English language learners.
The settlement agreement is the result of a federal investigation in which the U.S. Department of Justice claimed the district was in violation of non-discrimination laws. According to a brief summary online, federal officials, “examined whether the district was identifying and serving its English learner students in compliance with the Equal Educational Opportunities Act,” and entered into the agreement “to resolve the District’s noncompliance” and “ensure that (English learner) students receive the support they need to succeed.”
The original complaint was not immediately available. The agreement also notes that the district disputed the claims and argued its schools were in compliance with the law.
School district officials were not available to comment on the agreement.
Other districts in the region have had issues with the federal government related to educating English learners. Adams 12 officials signed a settlement agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice in 2010. The Adams 14 district reached a settlement agreement in 2014 after an investigation by the U.S. Department of Education. Denver Public Schools has been under a court-ordered agreement for more than 30 years.
In the current school year, about 40 percent of Westminster’s almost 9,500 students are identified as English learners. The agreement, however, suggests that the district might not have properly identified all the students who need English language services.
As a whole, the Westminster district has struggled academically on state criteria. The district was one of the first to face state accountability hearings last year and was put on a state-ordered plan to show improvement.
In the latest round of state test data, the Westminster district was one of the only districts in the metro area where English language learners had worse growth scores than native English speakers in both math and English. In the previous round, there was no gap in growth scores on English tests.
When it comes to graduation rates, the district’s English learners outpace the district overall. In 2017, for instance, 59.3 percent of students who speak limited English graduated in four years, compared to 57.8 percent of all district students. Looking at six-year graduation rates, the district’s English learners also outpace the state’s English learners.
Among the most detailed changes in the settlement agreement are changes to how teachers are trained to work with students who speak a language other than English.
The agreement states that “all English language development instruction will be provided by a CLDE-endorsed teacher or one who is “on-track” to complete” the state certification.
According to data provided by the district in December, 83 district staff members at that point had that state certification to teach culturally or linguistically diverse students. The district has more than 1,000 staff members including about 500 teachers. The agreement lays out a timeline for when teachers must complete the certifications, when the district must revise their internal training for new teachers and when they must complete their training program for existing teachers.
The training materials for those programs must be submitted to the federal government for review within 60 days of the agreement.
Some of the other requirements laid out in the agreement:
- Within 45 days, the district must identify students who after five years of services have not yet become fluent in English, and must ask the parents whether they want their children to get additional help.
- The district will have to train employees to review whether parents need translation services, and will train them on how to explain to parents how they may get access to qualified interpreters.
- Except in an emergency, the district is not to use students, family, or friends of parents for interpretation or translation services.
- The district must review its procedures for identifying students who are English learners — including students who are new to the country, and students who are long-term English learners — and must review files of all students enrolled in the district during the last four years to find students who might have qualified as English learners and who weren’t tested or identified.
- The district must also staff each school with a specialist with a state endorsement for teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students, including at the district’s Colorado STEM Academy and Westminster Academy for International Studies, in order to “provide an equal and meaningful opportunity for (English learners) to apply” and participate in the schools.
Read the full agreement below.