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Most Jackson County schools come up short for ELL skills

More than half of all Jackson County students learning English as another language have not reached proficiency in English after five years of public school instruction, but some districts have shown significant improvement, according to a report by the Oregon Department of Education released Thursday.

State law, based on the federal No Child Left Behind Act, requires that schools bring at least half of their English learners to English proficiency by the end of five years.

In 2009-2010, that expectation will go up to 70 percent of students within five years.

"English proficiency is an integral skill for success in society, advancing economically, finding better opportunities in the work force and advancing to postsecondary education," said Jake Weigler, ODE spokesman. "If students don't advance to proficiency, we are robbing them of opportunities in life that are only available to those who are proficient in English."

The Central Point School District was the only district in the county and one of only 11 in the state that managed to guide more than 50 percent of its English language learners to English proficiency within five years. About 58 percent of that district's English learners are proficient in the language after five years or less of language instruction, a 49-point improvement from the previous year.

"We have very few ELL students compared to other districts," said Samantha Steele, Central Point education director. "That's less than 2 percent. In order to provide better services, we centralized them at Central Point Elementary, Scenic Middle School and the Crater Renaissance Academy.

"ODE told us you can provide better services when you combine and centralize those, and that has worked for us."

Eagle Point and Phoenix-Talent districts also saw dramatic gains in the number of students who advanced in English or mastered English within five years, thanks in part to more focused and intense English programs and the adoption of English language development curriculum, officials said.

The percentage of Phoenix-Talent pupils who became proficient in five years more than doubled from the previous year, from 13 percent in 2007-08 to 28 percent last year.

A similar trend happened in Eagle Point, where 30 percent of students mastered English within five years last year compared to 12 percent in 2007-08.

"I'm really impressed with a lot of these numbers," said Scott Townsend, ELL coordinator in Eagle Point. "Seventy out of 116 kids moved up a level at Mountain View Elementary School. They had 28 out of 61 students master English within five years."

Medford, the county's largest school district, and the Ashland district had setbacks in bringing students to English proficiency, but all of the county districts exceeded the state average of 25 percent.

Within five years, about 39 percent of English learners had mastered English in the Ashland district, compared to 46 percent the previous year. In Medford, 31 percent reached mastery last year, compared to 43 percent the previous year.

Butte Falls and Prospect districts don't have an English language learner program because of their small size. Rogue River was not rated because of its small number of English language learners.

"We always see there is room for improvement on our end," Townsend said. "We try to focus on what we have control over, better materials and better teacher training."

Reach Paris Achen at 776-4459 or pachen@mailtribune.com.