Ever since a new approach to bilingual education was introduced at Eastman Avenue School four years ago, test scores generally have been rising, in some grades surpassing the citywide average.
Now Eastman, a predominantly Latino elementary school in East Los Angeles, is widely touted as a model for schools struggling to improve the academic achievement of Latino youngsters. Los Angeles Board of Education Member Leticia Quezada calls it "the most significant and most successful program we have" for Latinos.
The program was launched in 1983 by then-principal Bonnie Rubio and advisers from the California Department of Education. Before 1983, Spanish-speaking and English-speaking students were taught concurrently in English and Spanish with wide use of translation during lessons.
Under the new approach, Spanish-speaking students are separated from English-speaking students for about 80% of the school day. The Spanish-speaking students receive instruction in the core academic subjects in Spanish and join their fluent English-speaking peers for art, physical education and music.
English is introduced gradually in the solid subjects, beginning with mathematics. Most students who start the Eastman program in kindergarten are able to keep up with a full English program by the fourth grade, said Maria Gutierrez Ott, who coordinates the program for the district.
Currently, 28 elementary schools are using the Eastman approach.
A study last year by USC professors Stephen Krashen and Douglas Biber showed that third- and sixth-graders at Eastman made significant gains on the California Assessment Program test of basic math and reading skills after the new methods were introduced.
According to a 1988 district study of seven Eastman project schools, scores from the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, another widely used standardized achievement test, showed Eastman project students generally performing better than students at schools with a similar ethnic and socioeconomic background.
Moreover, when Eastman project students gain enough English fluency to enter an all-English instructional program, the study showed that they continue to achieve at a higher level compared to similar students who had not been exposed to the Eastman approach.
Ott said the district is preparing another evaluation based on 1988-89 test scores that she hopes will provide further encouraging information. Eastman Avenue's CAP scores dropped across the board for the first time in four years last year, which officials say could be just a one-year statistical fluctuation.