Overcoming the language gap in Tennessee

Non-English speaking students are part of the fastest growing population in U.S. schools.

Last year, one Tennessee school district fell short on state test scores among those students.

This school year, the Lebanon Special School District is trying something new to improve scores.

English as a Second Language teacher Katie Holloway goes over spelling words with a group of second graders.

Instead of just passing out a list of vocabulary words, Holloway breaks down the sounds which make up the word.

It’s part of a new curriculum Holloway and others in the district use to teach students English.

“We never really took the time to teach the kids how to break the words apart and put them back together enough,” said Holloway.

Two years ago, school leaders got back the Tennessee Comprehensive Achievement Program scores and they noticed about one in four kids who were not English speakers were not meeting state standards.

School officials decided to do something about it.

“English is a very complicated language linguistically, but there are only 70 sounds and 29 rules in English,” said ESL specialist Debbie Vaughn. “So if we can start from the basic building blocks and teach those rules and teach the sounds, then they begin to read.”

Lebanon Special School District is in the second year of implementing what is known as the Spalding Method.

The method has been around for decades, but is new to the district.

It’s a change that students said helps when it comes to learning this new language.

“When I got to Spalding, it made me really got with English, spelling them out,” said fifth-grade student Litzy Perez.

“It helps you on tons of stuff, like when you’re symbols divisions, from pronouncing, like when you are stuck on a word, you just, it’s just simple, you just see how many symbols it is and you just sound out. It’s easy,” said fifth-grade student Diego Gallgos.

District leaders hope that translates into better TCAP scores in the coming year.

About 9 percent of students are learning English as a second language.

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