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New Kansas Standards For Students Learning English Aimed At Boosting Performance

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The Kansas State Board of Education approved new standards Tuesday for students learning English as a second language.

The changes come as the number of students learning English grows in the state. Kansas Department of Education statistics show they made up nearly 12 percent of students in 2017.

The new guidelines are tied to the state’s latest education standards for all students.

Education Commissioner Randy Watson said the goal is advancing English skills as a way to boost overall performance.

“First, obtain the mastery of the language of English," he said, "and that will help you learn all the other subjects."

On the latest round of state assessments, those students learning English as a second language scored worse in each subject than their peers.

The new standards will now include a list of suggested vocabulary to help students not only communicate, but understand other subjects in school.

Idalia Shuman, a former educator who now works with the state teachers union, hailed the changes after the meeting. She pointed to the added vocabulary as one of the improvements.

Shuman said vocabulary was a struggle for her when she was learning English as a student. Her parents spoke Spanish.

“When I reached the fourth grade I had mastered playground language,” she said in an interview.

While she was able to communicate, she still had trouble understanding the more complex words her teachers used in class.

“The academic language was overwhelming for me, and I got lost,” Shuman said.

The new standards will take effect next year, with updated state assessments coming in 2020.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio, a partner in the Kansas News Service. Follow him on Twitter @kprkoranda. Kansas News Service stories and photos may be republished at no cost with proper attribution and a link back to the original post.

Stephen Koranda is Statehouse reporter for Kansas Public Radio and the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KCUR, KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and High Plains Radio covering health, education and politics.