(Photo: Courtesy of U.S. Department of Education)

English-language learners in Denver Public Schools are outpacing the rest of the state on tests that measure how well they know the language.

Denver’s students improved 8 percentage points over last year on the ACCESS test, according to data released by the Colorado Department of Education. That’s compared to a 4 percentage point gain in the rest of the state. Additionally, Denver third-graders saw the biggest gain with 19 percentage points.

ACCESS is an English language proficiency assessment given to K-12 students who have been identified as English-language learners.

About half of the district’s 87,000 students are English-language learners. About 27,000 students took the ACCESS test.

“We have focused closely on improving our training and support for teachers to strengthen instruction for our English-language learners,” DPS Superintendent Tom Boasberg says. “A key part of this is our investment in native-language instruction, which research is clear in showing it helps students become fluent in English.”

In native-language instruction programs, students receive instruction in Spanish in all content areas. They also receive content instruction in English as well as instruction in developing English language proficiency.

As English proficiency increases, students move from more Spanish to more English until they are ready to participate in mainstream classrooms.