Adelante Charter School fifth-graders explore the Arroyo Hondo Reserve with UCSB’s Cheadle Center for Biodiversity and Ecological Restoration Kids in Nature Program. (Holly Gil photo)

 Adelante Charter School is once again celebrating the outstanding performance of its fifth-grade students on the 2014 California Standards Test in science.

The CST in science, administered to fifth-, eighth- and 10th-graders, is the only test reported last year as California is transitioning to the new Common Core assessments. Overall, the percentage of students scoring proficient or advanced at Adelante was third only to Washington Elementary and Open Alternative School, schools that have few or no English Language Learners. When scores were compared in the ELL subcategory, Adelante outperformed all elementary schools within Santa Barbara Unified and all neighboring districts.

 Among ELLs, a whopping 67 percent of Adelante’s students showed results of advanced or proficient. The next closest school in the district was Santa Barbara Community Academy at 44 percent. The remaining schools’ scores in science among ELLs ranged from 9 to 33 percent proficient or advanced.

For many, the most surprising fact about all this is that Adelante’s students are taught science entirely in Spanish, while they are tested in English. But for those who have studied the two-way immersion educational model, this is precisely the expected outcome.

Elsewhere in California, two-way immersion schools are also leading their districts. In the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District, 82 percent of Edison Language Academy’s ELL students scored at the proficient or advanced levels, while only 50 percent of the ELLs in the district’s traditional programs did.  Nestor Academy in San Diego and Flowery Academy in Sonoma showed similar results, to name just a few.

Bilingual education has been extensively researched over the past 30 years. There is now a substantial body of evidence that clearly demonstrates the benefits of certain bilingual approaches in promoting overall academic achievement for both language minority and language majority students. These programs have been shown to greatly reduce the achievement gap between second language learners and native English speakers, resulting in higher achievement in English for ELLs, and increasing high school graduation rates among that group. During the last 15 years, aggregated results of these studies have solidified into clearly designed, evidenced-based educational program models, including the two-way immersion program in which Adelante’s curriculum is designed.

At Adelante, science is used as a means of developing high levels of academic language in English and Spanish. Principal Juanita Hernandez has prioritized a Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) focus that emphasizes hands-on, student-centered learning, relevant real world problem solving, inquiry and consistent opportunities for interaction with the natural world.

Students at all grade levels participate in numerous field trips and outdoor experiences. Adelante collaborates with UCSB, Kids in Nature, SciTrek, NOAA’s Ocean Guardians, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the MERITO Academy (Multicultural Education for Resource Issues Threatening Oceans), Explore Ecology, Wishtoyo, Let’s Grow Garden Projects, Catalina Island Marine Institute (CIMI) and the Wilderness Youth Project. Adelante places a high priority on field experiences even for its youngest students. Together, these experiences inspire Adelante’s students to engage in more complex thinking, and produce self-directed, lifelong learners.

— Sheila Cullen is a board member for Adelante Charter School.