11 December 2009

Portland Public Schools has failed its English language learners

OFIR members and supporters:

After five or more years learning English as their second language, (ELL, ESL), in Oregon schools, 75 percent of those students still are not proficient in English according to a report out today.

In the Salem-Keizer School District 84 percent of the students in their ELL program fail to meet minimum standards.

The Oregon Department of Education, (ODE), gives an extra $2700 per ELL student to each school district. Despite spending 50 percent more per student there is a 75 percent failure rate. Obviously spending more money doesn’t equate with success.

Until the Oregon Legislature deals with the failures and waste of money by the Oregon Department of Education, OFIR will urge voters to reject any increase in taxes. We urge members to vote against Measures # 66 and # 67, the tax increases that will be on January ballot.

If you wish to call the Oregon Department of Education the number is: (503) 378-3600.

The headquarters of the Salem School district is: (503) 399-3000.


Most Oregon schools slow to get English learners proficient

Betsy Hammond, The Oregonian
December 10, 2009, 5:00AM

After five or more years learning English as their second language in Oregon schools, 75 percent of those students still are not proficient in English according to a report out today.

Portland Public Schools has failed its English language learners for so long that the state this fall cut off federal funding for students with limited English proficiency, a loss of more than $600,000 a year to the state's largest district.

The Oregon Department of Education says it's crucial that schools help students gain proficiency in English, and the U.S. Department of Education says five years should be enough time for a typical student to master the language.

But most districts aren't coming close to that target.

Half the state's English language learners are concentrated in just seven school districts, including Portland and Beaverton. And in four of those --
Hillsboro, Reynolds, Salem-Keizer and Woodburn -- fewer than one-quarter of the students are fluent after five or more years, according to today's accountability report.

In Salem, which has more English learners than any other district -- 5,700 -- only 16 percent mastered English after five or more years in English as a second language classes, the state reported.

State monitors are upset with Portland's performance because the state notified the district in 2005 that it was violating federal education law. The district fixed the problems to the satisfaction of state monitors in 2006, but when the state checked again in 2009, the district had slipped back into some of its old ways.

Among the problems found in early 2009 and still not fixed to the state's satisfaction: Some Portland schools don't give English learners enough language support to learn the core subject matter for their grade level, and not every student is being taught English language development using research-backed techniques.

Assistant State Superintendent Colleen Mileham notified Portland in late September that the state would withhold federal funds, a step it rarely takes, to communicate how important it is to consistently serve English language learners well.

Schools across the state generally do a good job helping students progress through the early stages of speaking, reading and writing English, the state report says.

The problem occurs when schools try to move students to advanced and proficient levels so that they can exit the English as second language program. Helping students master complex verb tenses, idioms and advanced academic language is challenging, says Kim Miller, statewide coordinator of English as a second language programs.

Under the federal No Child Left Behind law, the state expects schools to get half their English language learners proficient within five years. Only 16 of the state's 200 school districts managed to do that, and only two of them --
Redmond and Eugene -- served a large number of English language learners.

Martha Hinman, Redmond's director of student services, said teachers there make sure they spend enough time and concentrate on the right skills to get students up to speed in academic English. For non-native English speakers, mastering academic language in math, science, health and literature, as required, is "really tough," Hinman says.

The state education department is supposed to require big changes in school districts that chronically fall short. If a district fails to succeed with its English learners for four straight years, federal law gives the state two options. It can require a district to change its "curriculum, program and methods of instruction" or it can withhold funding and require that educators responsible for the poor results be replaced.

Oregon mainly opts to require curriculum and teaching changes, says Jake Weigler, communication director for the agency. Portland is the only district ever to have its English proficiency funds withheld, he said.

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- Betsy Hammond betsyhammond@news.oregonian.com