For the second year in a row, the Tigard-Tualatin School District has failed to meet federal goals for increasing the proficiency of English language learners in the district.

But though the district failed to meet the goals, it still managed to outperform every district in Washington County, as well as the state, in every category.

The Oregon Department of Education released its annual report on ELL progress last week, detailing how students who are not fluent in English are progressing in districts across the state.

In two of the three categories, Tigard-Tualatin failed to meet federal goals.

According to the state, there are 1,506 English language learners currently enrolled in Tigard-Tualatin.

The district’s goal was to have 61 percent of its students move up at least one proficiency level last year. Instead, only 46 percent of ELL students improved.

That number is still better than the state’s, which had an average of 45 percent of its ELL students improve.

Federal goals also required that at least 19 percent of Tigard-Tualatin’s English Language Learners reach proficiency and exit the program. Instead, Tigard-Tualatin had only 15 percent of its students exit the program — the state average was 13.8 percent.

“I think the Department of Ed(ucation) got it right when they said that the results for English learners leave much to be desired,” said the district’s new Director of Curriculum Rachel Stucky, who took over in July. “We have a great deal of work to do. It’s not acceptable, and it shouldn’t be acceptable. We have a lot of very important work still to do.”

Districts that fail to meet the goals two years in a row must develop an improvement plan to address the issue.

Stucky said she plans on tackling the issues head on, and intends to put a team together to look at overall practices and find inconsistencies in the district’s ELL program.

“I’ll be more assured when I can see that and have a solid understanding and make sure we have a district-wide vision at the building level to where we want our English learners to be,” Stucky said.

Stucky, who spent years as a bilingual teacher in Salem-Keizer School District earlier in her career, said that programs like dual-language immersion — which began last year at Metzger Elementary School and spread this year to Bridgeport Elementary — will help in the long run, as students work their way through the system.

“We anticipate those results will be very strong,” she said. “Students who receive instruction in their native language retain and attain English better.”

School leaders are also considering expanding the dual-language model to other schools in the district, possibly through grant funds through the Oregon Department of Education.

But dual-language is only one of a handful of programs the district introduced last fall, which it says will help the district over time, she said.

Some schools, such as Tualatin Elementary, are providing native-language instruction in kindergarten and first grade, where specific content is taught in Spanish.

Stucky said the district will need to increase proficiency development for teachers and assess students more frequently.

“The more often we can assess them, not in a test but assess them with common assessments, we can adapt our instruction and get better results,” Stucky said.

Other schools, such as Charles F. Tigard, hold a school-wide language development period for all students to work on grammar, fluency and language development at their own pace.

“You can never have enough English,” Stucky said.

It’s not an easy fix and will take time, she added. “But I have a real passion for ELL kids, and I have some background in that area myself. I am dedicated to strengthening this program and I plan on being around for awhile to address this.”

State struggles with English language learners

Tigard-Tualatin isn’t alone. According to an Oregon Department of Education report, fewer students statewide made the expected gains in language acquisition, language proficiency and program exits compared to the previous year.

“Our education system is in a time of change, but unfortunately, that change isn’t happening fast enough for our English learners,” said Deputy Superintendent Rob Saxton, who worked as superintendent of Tigard-Tualatin before claiming the state’s top education job last year. “While I don’t believe that these federal targets are an ideal measure of language acquisition and student learning, the results are clear. We need to move forward aggressively with our reform efforts to ensure we are providing our English learners with the instruction, supports and opportunities they need to master academic English and graduate ready for college and career.”

ELL students take proficiency tests every year, which determine how proficient students are in reading, writing, speaking and listening, ranking them on a 1 to 5 scale.

Federal guidelines give students five years to become proficient and graduate out of the program.

The targets increase every year, Saxton said, widening the gap between federal goals and student outcomes.

The district met federal goals for ELL students in 2010, but Tigard-Tualatin has long struggled with how best to support its English learners.

Saxton said the continuing declines show a need to change the way the state instructs English language learners.

New Common Core state standards, which take affect next year, should combat some of that, Saxton said. The state is also working with 11 other states to develop a new English language proficiency test to better test students.

“I believe that these new standards, the changes to instruction that they will prompt, and the better information provided by the new assessment, will start to turn things around for our English language development programs,” Saxton said. “However, we can’t stop there. Helping students develop strong academic English skills is a critical step — but it is only one step.”

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