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District, state struggle to meet targets for students learning English


Report released by the Oregon Department of Education

Like many districts across the state, the West Linn-Wilsonville School District failed to meet federal targets for students learning English, according to the 2011-2012 Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives report.

The Oregon Department of Education released the report, which describes the progress school districts are making in teaching non-native speakers — English language learners (ELL) — and is required under the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

ODE tracks the progress districts are making toward meeting federal targets. This year’s results — both within the school district and across the state — reveal real challenges as fewer students are making the needed gains to reach English proficiency.

“We, like many of our colleagues, are still not meeting those standards that have now risen each year,” Deputy Superintendent Jane Stickney said, referring to the federal proficiency targets that increase by approximately 10 percent each year.

“It actually wasn’t a surprise to us; we have been looking at the data and working on this issue for many years,” she said.

Last year, the school district had 292 English language learners out of 8,358 total students.

The majority of non-native speakers reside in Wilsonville. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language for non-native speakers, however, approximately 15 languages are represented in the district.

The goal of English Language Development programs is to provide non-native speakers with the instruction and support they need to gain academic proficiency in English within five years. All English language learners in Oregon are required to take the state’s English Language Proficiency Assessment each year, and the results of the tests are used to track students’ progress toward proficiency.

Oregon identifies five levels of language proficiency, from beginning to advanced. Students are expected to progress one level a year if they are to remain on track to exit the program within five years.

Oregon tracks the progress these programs are making toward meeting three federal targets: progression in English language acquisition, exiting or obtaining proficiency in English and meeting annual measurable achievement objectives. These targets increase each year.

The 2011-12 results are:

Target 1 — Progressing in English language acquisition

Did at least 57 percent of ELL students move up by one level of English proficiency?

No, only 44 percent of students in the district moved up by one level. Statewide, only 50 percent of students moved up by one level, the same as last year.

Target 2 — Exiting or reaching English language proficiency

Did at least 17 percent of all ELL students reach proficiency and exit the program?

A. Yes, 17 percent of students in the district reached proficiency and exited the program. Statewide, schools failed to meet standards. Only 16 percent of students reached proficiency, down from 16.6 percent last year.

B. Did at least 26.5 percent of Oregon’s ELL students identified for five years or more reach proficiency and exit the program?

Yes, 35 percent of students in the district identified for five years or more reached proficiency and exited the program. Statewide, 31 percent of students reached proficiency, down from 32 percent last year.

Target 3 — ELL Annual Measurable Objectives

Did Oregon’s districts make annual measurable objectives for ELL students?

No, the district is one of 62 Oregon districts that failed to meet the objectives for all students. Only 11 districts in Oregon met them. Sixty districts were not rated for this target due to an insufficient number of ELL students. Sixty-four districts had no ELL students in the 2011-12 school year.

“This has been happening the last several years,” Stickney said. “When you increase thresholds by 10 percent each year or more, more and more school districts fall off the path — none of this is because of lack of care or effort. It’s about a very challenging instructional issue.”

The West Linn-Wilsonville School District provides ongoing staff development and teaching strategies aimed at teaching non-native speakers. High school and middle school teachers will receive updated Guided Language Acquisition Design training — a language acquisition and literacy model — and the district has also hired a consultant for the second year to provide tools and strategies to teach non-native speakers.

The school district is in the process of updating its English Language Development Standards and will present the information to the school board in November. The goal, Stickney said, is to invite all learners to the table.

“We have a number of things we are going to do to increase the quality of learning,” she said. “We are continuing our study of equity and access and engagement for all students. We are really trying to understand at an even more sophisticated level how to provide equity and access to all children.”

State and federal mandates

Just fewer than 10 percent of Oregon’s students are non-native English speakers. The most common first language for these students is Spanish, followed by Russian, Vietnamese and Chinese. Overall, Oregon students and their families speak more than 150 languages.

“This year we saw the results for our ELL students moving in the wrong direction and that is simply unacceptable,” ODE Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton said. “Continuing down our current path is not an option.”

A combination of state and federal laws govern the services that public school districts must provide to students who are not proficient in English. Districts that fail to meet the overall objectives for two or more consecutive years are required to submit a plan of improvement to ODE. ODE reviews school district’s programs on a three-year rotation.

If a school district has failed to meet objects for four or more consecutive years, Title III funding could be withheld and the state could require the school district ELL program staff to be replaced.

“We face a huge challenge here, but we also have an incredible opportunity,” Saxton said. “We know that our current system isn’t providing us with the outcomes our students deserve, so we are redesigning our system to better meet the needs of our kids.”