The Story of Adams 14, A District who Lost their Voz

In an increasingly globalized world, the competitive advantage of being fluent in more than one language has given way to necessity. With efforts to capitalize, states around the country have given their seal of approval to dual language education. As the number of petitions signed by school boards across the country continues to grow, so too has the demand for schools that offer dual language education programs. One such anomaly exists, however, in the Adams County 14 School District outside of Denver, Colorado; the local school board has recently voted to disband their K-5 Biliteracy Program that was in the early stages of implementation (K-3), in favor of an English only education.

While Colorado, in line with its often-progressive policies, is seen as a leader in the advancement of the dual language education field, Adams County 14 seems to be diverging since the district introduced a new superintendent.

The district is small, with only some 7,000 students total across their 20 pre-k classrooms, seven elementary schools, two middle schools, an alternative high school and a comprehensive high school.

The district had been one of Colorado’s pioneers in bilingual education, equipped with forefront curriculum resources, eager-to-learn students, and a supportive faculty.

The previous superintendent had created an agreement with The Colorado University at Boulder to support the dual immersion program; with this partnership, bilingual education gained a great deal of traction. It implemented dual language education in elementary schools, creating a bilingual buddy program and bilingual education teaching in at least 33 classrooms. This mark, unfortunately, created a ceiling for bilingual education progress, as State officials and the new superintendent were unimpressed with district test results and no longer saw dual language education efforts as being of importance.

School officials, along with the superintendent, seem to believe the way to create success and raise the test scores of Adams County 14 is to enhance English literacy, as English fluency is required to pass standardized tests.

Their logic, at first, seems quite sound; the call for diverging away from bilingual education came because of the disapproval of poor district standardized test scores. The logic assumes that for students to succeed on such standardized tests – most of which are given only in English – they must have a strong understanding of the English language. Therefore, to ensure this outcome, classes should be conducted solely in English to maximize student’s time and familiarity with it.

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This reasoning falls flat in many ways. To begin, certain standardized tests available for students have at least some component available in Spanish, if not in its entirety. Unfortunately, the district’s inaction to provide such materials leads to an issue that has not been faced with the new administration.

It has been shown through various studies that a bilingual education works to improve test scores outright.

The previously implemented “Believer Program” carried out through the district’s elementary, middle school, and high school classrooms could have helped in lifting test scores, had the district allowed the program to continue past its third year. Despite the best effort of district employees and community members, attempting to convince the Superintendent of the benefits of bilingual education through data, the “Believer Program” was not given the chance to show its true potential.

Not only do dual language programs provide benefits for native Spanish speakers but utilizing a second language is shown to have numerous benefits for students who are native English speakers as well.

Doing away with the biliteracy program will cause issues for those who had the privilege of starting in the dual language program in elementary school, as they are now being transferred into an English only classroom. Therefore, they are only in the beginning stages of their biliteracy development and will never fully develop their skill set to its full potential.

The fallout of the dual language education plan has left the community in shock, as it went against Colorado’s fervent support of the Seal of Biliteracy. When we reached out to the superintendent’s office for a comment, they did not return our request.

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The Superintendent, however, is not alone in wanting the schools to be English only. Many people in the district holding positions of power, including three Latino board members, support the Superintendent. These board members believe that Spanish is not necessary to advance today. This flawed ideology brings ramifications that could hurt students, given majority of the district is Hispanic or Latino. An astounding 80% of the Adams County 14 students are Spanish Heritage speakers. With this high of a volume of students working towards biliteracy, switching to an English only school ignores the needs of native Spanish speakers who have difficulties in English-only classrooms.

Those against the new changes have faced retaliation while the new adjustments have unraveled. The English Language Development (ELD) director was recently placed on administrative leave, which then was eliminated and replaced by an ELD Manager position. While others in support of dual language education were demoted and replaced by people whose views aligned with the Superintendents’. On top of this, teachers who are pro-biliteracy have been feeling underappreciated and have felt they are in hostile environments, to the point where some feel the need to leave the district. This is a problem that has just recently come to life as the number of teachers was steadily growing prior to the changes.

Currently, the biliteracy program is being weaned off in small stages. Despite the community wanting biliteracy to be taught from Pre-K-12, no schools can enforce the dual language program post third grade. On top of this, the time allotted for Spanish immersion has been dwindling down per the Superintendent’s orders. Originally, three hours a day were to be set aside for biliteracy instruction (Spanish Language Arts and Literacy-based ELD); however, the beginning of the year required a fifty-minute cut from the Spanish program. This cut resulted in a more-than-six-hour-a-week cut from the dual immersion program to advance English literacy.

The concerned parents of these students are fighting the School District in hopes of reversing the new rules put forth by the district. As of now, the community of Adams County 14 asks for their story to be heard and for the district to hear their concerns and act on what is best for the students.

Arthur Chou
Author: Arthur Chou

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