The number of bilingual students reaching English proficiency in doubled from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013.
The district partly credits more direct instruction and a new standardized test for the gain.
To exit the district’s ELL (English Language Learner) program, students must receive a certain score on a standardized test assessing their English proficiency. Seventy-two students scored high enough on the ACCESS test last year to graduate from the district bilingual program.
In the 2012-2013 school year, the district switched to a different standardized test for ELL students. Twice as many – 142 students – scored high enough on the new test to be deemed English proficient.
Another 30 students in the district are “probably really, really close” to graduating from the ELL program.
There were “very healthy numbers” across grades in students who became English proficient, though the junior high bilingual students did not graduate in higher numbers.
“We’ll put some more staff at next year to have a full range of supports for them,” said Greg Wolcott, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning.
Wolcott said the district has put an increased focus on ELL this school year. The district has mandated that every ELL student received ELL instruction five days a week. Some students had received only one or two days of ELL instruction before.
Staff have also undertaken professional development in the area. Sixty-five staff members of 210 total have taken ELL graduate coursework this year.
The district also switched bilingual assessments to give students a better chance to succeed.
“The ACCESS test didn’t allow our students to have the best possible chance for success,” Wolcott said. “We wanted to make sure when we tested them, they have every opportunity to show them what they knew.”
While the old test limited how high students could score, there is no such cap on the new test.
“We lifted the ceiling so that they could show us what they knew,” Wolcott said. “It was much more than we thought.”
With an increasing bilingual student population, the district decided this spring to increase its bilingual staff.
With more students becoming English proficient, bilingual staff numbers might be reduced next school year.
“We may be over-staffed next year, even with new kids coming in,” said Patrick Broncato, assistant superintendent of personnel, said.
In December, there were 626 ELL students in the district's population of 2,920 students. That 21.4 percent has jumped from 6.7 percent of the district’s 3,303 students in 2002.
With 454 Spanish speakers, Spanish is the most common language for these students. However, 32 students speak Arabic, 23 speak Lithuanian and 17 speak Malayalam. Urdo, Ukrainian, Filipino, Akan, Czech, Russian, Bulgarian, Polish and Korean are also spoken, as well.