High School English as a Second Language (ESL) Program--Montwood High School

Best Practice Summary

English Language Learners (ELL)

Montwood High School (MHS) (Grades 9–12)/Socorro Independent School District (Socorro ISD)

Accountability Rating:
Recognized 2008–09

BPC Year of Recognition:
2009–10 (2009, 2010 Broad Prize for Urban Education Finalist-District)

BPC Evidence Type:
Practice With Quantitative Evidence

Purpose of Program:
To support ESL students[1] in completing high school

Targeted Populations:
All ESL students (Grades 9–12)

Key Strategies/Approaches:

  • Differentiated four-year graduation plans for both newcomer and intermediate ESL students
  • Training and campuswide collaboration to support ESL students
  • Access to technology and additional support

Implementation Highlights:

Implementation Highlights: 1995-98: ESL Dept formed; ESL lab opened 2000-02: ESL support courses; Core-area ESL staff hired 2003-04: ESL mobile tech labs 2008-09: Transition courses pilot; SIOP training

Supporting Evidence

Overview of Evidence:

Since 2002−03, MHS’s completion rate[2] for ESL students [3]  was above both state averages for ESL students and averages for ESL students in a peer campus comparison group that included 27 campuses[4] for all years except 2006−07 (see note below).  In 2002−03, MHS’s completion rate (Completion Rate I without GED, which is used as a standard accountability indicator) for ESL students was 83%, compared to state average of 79% and the peer campus group average of 65%. In 2007−08, the most current year for which completion data were available, MHS’s completion rate for ESL students was 80%, compared to the state average of 69% and the peer campus group average of 58%. Chart 1 shows trend data comparing ESL completion rates of MHS students to state and peer campus group averages from 200203 to 200708.

The BPC compared ESL students from MHS to ESL students in the state. These comparisons were statistically significant (p<.05) in 2003−04 and 2004−05. Additionally, effect sizes were above .25 in 2003−04 through 2005−06 and in 2007−08, indicating that the campus had substantively higher completion rates across the majority of years for which data were available. 

The BPC also compared ESL students from MHS to ESL students in the peer campus group. With the exception of 200607, the campus had statistically significant (p<.05) and substantively higher (ES>.25) completion rates than the peer campus group from 200203 to 200708.

Since 2005–06, the MHS English as a Second Language (ESL) Department has tracked TAKS data through Grade 12 on any student who participated in the ESL program during high school, including those who had exited the ESL program (and LEP status) at any point during high school. Specifically, the campus tracked passing rates for all ESL program participants (including exited students) on subject area exit-level TAKS, including all retakes through Grade 12 to monitor completion rates. In 2008−09, 88% of ESL program participants passed exit-level English Language Arts (ELA) TAKS, 96% passed mathematics, 96% passed social studies, and 92% passed science. Chart 2 shows campus-reported trend data on TAKS exit-level passing rates after all administrations of the test in all subject areas.

Note: Staff reported that the decrease in the ESL completion rate and campus-reported ESL TAKS passing rates in 2006−07 was due in part to educational background variations of the particular cohort of students trying to graduate that year, many of whom were undereducated recent immigrants, given implementation of a higher passing standard for exit-level TAKS in 2005−06.[5] Even after re-taking TAKS in Grade 12, many ESL students were not able to meet the higher passing standard by the end of the 2006−07 school year. Completion rates at the state level and in the peer campus group also decreased in the year following the implementation of the higher standard.   

Chart 1: MHS Completion Rate I for ESL Students Compared to State and Peer Campus Group Averages for ESL Students Across School Years In 2002–03, the state's ESL students had a Completion Rate I of 80.6%, compared to the school's Completion Rate I of 88.0%, compared to the peer campus group's Completion Rate I of 65%. In 2003–04, the state's ESL students had a Completion Rate I of 81.9%, compared to the school's Completion Rate I of 96.2%, compared to the peer campus group's Completion Rate I of 81%. In 2004–05, the state's ESL students had a Completion Rate I of 82.4%, compared to the school's Completion Rate I of 95.6%, compared to the peer campus group's Completion Rate I of 64%. In 2005–06, the state's ESL students had a Completion Rate I of 71.4%, compared to the school's Completion Rate I of 86.7%, compared to the peer campus group's Completion Rate I of 59%. In 2006–07, the state's ESL students had a Completion Rate I of 64.6%, compared to the school's Completion Rate I of 63.3%, compared to the peer campus group's Completion Rate I of 64%. In 2007–08, the state's ESL students had a Completion Rate I of 68.7%, compared to the school's Completion Rate I of 80.8%, compared to the peer campus group's Completion Rate I of 58%.
Source: Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS)

Chart 2: Campus Data on TAKS Exit-Level Cumulative Pass Rate by Subject Area for ESL Program Participants Across School Years In 2005–06, the TAKS Exit-Level Cumulative Pass Rate for ESL program participants was 92.9% for English language arts, 88.1% for mathematics, 95.3% for social studies, and 90.7% for science. In 2006–07, the TAKS Exit-Level Cumulative Pass Rate for ESL program participants was 70.8% for English language arts, 58.3% for mathematics, 100% for social studies, and 58.3% for science. In 2007–08, the TAKS Exit-Level Cumulative Pass Rate for ESL program participants was 71.4% for English language arts, 75% for mathematics, 100% for social studies, and 85.7% for science. In 2008–09, the TAKS Exit-Level Cumulative Pass Rate for ESL program participants was 87.5% for English language arts, 95.8% for mathematics, 95.8% for social studies, and 91.7% for science.
Source: Campus-reported data



  • The district is located near the U.S.-Mexico border, and MHS can serve between 100 and 200 ESL students each year, many of whom are newcomers who have recently immigrated to the U.S. The program also serves intermediate ESL students, who are also typically recent immigrants to the U.S. but who have already attended a U.S. middle school.
  • The campus established the ESL Department in 1995−96, and the program has grown and evolved to offer a coordinated four-year program of support for ESL students since that time. The department currently employs a department chair and seven teachers with subject-area and ESL certification.
  • Staff reported that annual enrollment of ESL students fluctuates, and the program has to be flexible to adapt to the widely varying needs and educational backgrounds of students. New students enroll at the campus throughout the year.
  • The campus is on a block schedule and a year-round calendar.
Demographics (2008-09)
Demographics 2008-09: Grade Levels Served 9-12. Campus Enrollment: 2,594. Ethnic Distribution: African American 46, 1.8%. Hispanic 2,327, 89.7%. White 195, 7.5%. Native American 8, 0.3%. Asian/Pacific Islander 18, 0.7%. Economically Disadvantaged 1,451, 55.9%; Limited English Proficient (LEP) 143; 5.5%. At-Risk 1,724, 66.5%. Mobility (2008-09) 389, 14.0%.
Source: Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS)


  • Training based on the work of Glasser, Krashen, Cummins (see Literature Base section)
  • Training in Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP)
  • Training in state English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS)

Referral Process:

  • Referral for program participation by campus Language Proficiency Assessment Committee (LPAC)


Differentiated four-year graduation plans

  • The campus ESL Department developed a four-year curriculum plan associated with two general proficiency levels (beginner and intermediate). The program provided sheltered instruction in all content areas with transition classes and support in mainstream classes as students moved into the upper grades and/or skill levels developed. The schedule of courses mirrored the campus’ non-ESL course sequence, but electives were used to provide additional intensive English support (for details, see http://www.sisd.net/228220610182732170/blank/browse.asp?A=383&BMDRN=2000&BCOB=0&C=64668). Some key components of the ESL curriculum included the following:
    • The English curriculum for beginners and intermediates included two credit-bearing English electives in Years 1 and 2 so that students had English every day on the block schedule. In Year 1, beginners took Practical Writing and Language Development. In Year 2, beginners took English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) I and Literacy Genres. In Year 3, beginners took ESOL II and Creative Writing, and in Year 4, beginners took English III and English IV. Intermediates took ESOL I and Literary Genres in Year 1 and ESOL II and Creative Writing in Year 2. In Year 3, intermediates took English III, and in Year 4, intermediates took English IV.
    • In 2008−09, the campus piloted a transition program for students ready to move into mainstream English III and IV. Class composition was typically two thirds English-speaking students and one third ESL students. Certified teachers from the ESL Department co-taught with the regular teachers using ESL strategies to make the literature more accessible for all students and to provide support for ESL students. The campus was considering expanding this co-teaching model to other subject areas.
    • Also, in Year 2, all students identified for ESL services took Reading II, a course focused on reading in the other core content areas, with emphasis on essential vocabulary and idiomatic speech used in the different disciplines. The course also incorporated practice in TAKS testing strategies such as answering open-ended questions, essay writing, and reading comprehension.
    • All ESL students also took the course Spanish I and II in Year 1, which was taught in the students’ native language with emphasis, where applicable, on the English I and II TEKS. The course provided instruction and practice in transferable language-related skills.
    • In social studies, all ESL students took a course developed by campus staff in Year 2 called Independent Study in English: American Studies to prepare for the U.S. history/social studies portion of TAKS in Grade 11. The course focused on the U.S. history content taught in middle school to address the fact that many ESL students either missed the first half of U.S. history taught in Grade 8 due to late enrollment, or, because of language issues, missed content in the course. The development and resources for this research-focused course were supported through the University of New Mexico’s Annual French Award for the Improvement of Secondary Teaching (for details, see http://education.nmsu.edu/news-current/french-award.html and http://www.teaching.nmsu.edu/Resources/awards/prevFrench.html).
    • In Years 3 and 4, in addition to the English courses described above and other required courses, students were enrolled in elective courses in the subject areas in which they had previously failed TAKS. These courses were designed by the campus and offered to all students in English. ESL Department staff monitored their students’ performance and progress in these courses and provided additional support (small group or one-on-one tutoring) on an informal basis as needed. If students retook and passed a TAKS test in October, they moved into another elective of their choice for the second semester.   

Training and campuswide collaboration to support ESL students

  • All teachers in the ESL Department were certified in the subject area they taught and ESL; most were also fluent in Spanish. All ESL teachers were trained in the use of the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol (SIOP), which provides instructional strategies to support ESL students.
  • The ESL staff collaborated with their subject-area departments and other teachers campuswide. All ESL teachers attended content area meetings. Some teachers from other departments worked directly with the ESL Department and taught sheltered courses. As part of a larger district effort, all MHS teachers participated in SIOP training in 2008–09.
  • Staff reported that other campuswide training that was critical to the philosophy of the ESL program included professional development focused on William Glasser’s Choice Theory, which relates to internal motivation, Stephen Krashen’s Comprehensible Input and the Power of Reading, and Jim Cummins’ Common Underlying Proficiencies (see Literature Base section). Staff reported that these trainings and initiatives were essential to a shared vision for student success.
  • In 2009−10, the district ESL Department provided training for all administrators and campus LPAC coordinators in the English Language Proficiency Standards (ELPS). In summer 2010, the district provided ELPS training for all content-area teachers. The MHS ESL Department provided campus follow-up and support in the ELPS for content-area teachers beginning in the 2009−10 school year. 

Access to technology and additional support

  • The district funded an ESL computer lab reserved for ESL students on the campus, as well as three mobile computer labs for ESL class use to facilitate hands-on, project-based instruction in all content areas. Students used the labs for research, multimedia projects, class reports, presentations, and publications. Rosetta Stone software was also available for supplemental English development support.
  • ESL Department staff worked with the campus librarian to identify and purchase an extensive selection of reading resources for ESL students in the campus library.
  • Staff reported that student encouragement was an important component of the program. Because standard pass/fail TAKS results were discouraging for many ESL students, ESL Department staff began analyzing test data for improvement and progress. For example, staff provided students with information on how many questions away from the passing standard they were, a number that generally improved over time. For all seniors, a teacher in the ESL Department created reports by subject area, going back to eighth-grade data (when available) to show progress. Because many students in the program did not pass all exit-level TAKS subject area tests the first time they took them, staff reported that these progress reports were an important motivator for students, helping to give them a “last push” to retake and succeed in passing the exit-level tests in order to graduate.
  • Campuswide academic mentoring services provided additional TAKS support and motivation for ESL students who had failed a TAKS test. All teachers were assigned 5-10 students coded as at-risk for failure in a subject area. These teacher/mentors provided small-group instruction and other support to students participating in the campus’ TAKS support electives during these class periods.
  • In addition, students who needed extra support were assigned to one of several campus centers (the campus offered, for example, an ESL center, a freshman center, a mathematics center, and a science center) staffed by mentor teachers to receive one-on-one support.
  • The ESL teachers also sponsored an ESL club to include ESL students in the social activities of the school, provide leadership opportunities, and perform community service.
  • Twice per year, all ESL teachers met as a group with students and family members during parent-teacher conference night and held group and individual conferences. Staff also worked through the campus’ parent liaison to communicate with parents. When funding permitted, the department helped to arrange English classes for students’ family members.
  • ESL staff had a common conference period during which they held departmental meetings or met with parents and students as necessary.

Resources, Cost Components, and Sources of Funding:

The practice was supported using a combination of Title III, Title I, and funds from a variety of district and external grants over the years, (e.g., the Limited English Proficient Student Success Initiative grant, Annual French Award for the Improvement of Secondary Teaching). Cost components included the following:

  • Staffing
  • Training
  • Technology
  • Library resources

Literature Base:

  • Cummins, J. (2000). Language, power, and pedagogy: Bilingual children in the crossfire. Clevedon, Eng., and Buffalo, NY: Multilingual Matters.
  • DiCerbo, P.A. (Ed.). (2000). Lessons from research: What is the length of time it takes limited English proficient students to acquire English and succeed in an all-English classroom? [Issue Brief No. 5] National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education. Retrieved from http://qcpages.qc.cuny.edu/ECP/bilingualcenter/Newsletters/HowLongDoesItV3-1.pdf
  • Glasser, W. (1984). Choice theory. New York: Harper & Row.
  • Kamil, M. L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., and Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices: A PracticeGuide (NCEE #2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc
  • Krashen, S. (1981). Principles and practice in second language acquisition. English Language Teaching series. London: Prentice-Hall.
  • Krashen, S. (1993). The power of reading. Englewood, CO: Libraries Unlimited, Inc. 
Lessons Learned


  • Staff reported that consistently strong administrative support and advocacy for the students and the ESL program were key to program success.
  • Challenges and barriers changed from year to year. Available funding sources came and went, for example, and the department had to routinely make adjustments to the curriculum to align it with the varying academic backgrounds of incoming students.

Contact Information


Montwood High School
Socorro Independent School District
12000 Montwood Drive
El Paso, TX 79936

(915) 937-2400


End Notes

[1]The term ESL student is used in this summary to refer to students identified for participation in Limited English Proficient (LEP) programs in Grades 9−12. Texas Education Code (TEC)§29.052 defines a “Student of limited English proficiency (LEP) as a student whose primary language is other than English and whose English language skills are such that the student has difficulty performing ordinary class work in English.” TEC further requires that districts with an enrollment of 20 or more students of limited English proficiency in any language classification in the same grade level to offer a bilingual education or special language program as follows: (1) bilingual education in kindergarten through the elementary grades; (2) bilingual education, instruction in English as a second language, or other transitional language instruction approved by the agency in post-elementary grades through Grade 8; and (3) instruction in English as a second language in Grades 9 through 12.

[2]According to the 2008−09 AEIS Glossary: “Dropouts are counted according to the dropout definition in place the year they drop out. The definition changed in 200506. Completion rates for classes in which the national dropout definition is being phased in (i.e., classes of 2006, 2007, 2008, and 2009) are not comparable to completion rates for the class of 2005 and prior classes, nor to each other.”

[3]Completion rate data only include those students who were still identified for LEP programs when they completed high school. It does not include students who exited LEP status and ESL programming in earlier grades.

[4]Peer campuses were identified using the campus groups used in Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) reporting. For more information on how campus groups are identified, see the AEIS Glossary, http://ritter.tea.state.tx.us/perfreport/aeis/2009/glossary.htmlThe comparison group used for this analysis only includes those 27 campuses for which 2002−03 completion data were available. 

[5]In 2004–05, the passing standard for Grade 11 TAKS was 1 standard error of measurement (SEM) below the panel recommendation. In 2005–06, the TAKS panel recommendation for Grade 11 was implemented as the new passing standard.