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Language skills rise, but fail to meet state targets

Nearly every school district in the county and the vast majority in the state failed to meet state standards in mainstreaming English language learning students. But the results don't tell the whole story, says one school administrator.

At least 355 of Jackson County's 2,000 English language learning students were deemed proficient enough to move out of school language programs last year, a marked improvement from the previous year, according to a state report released Monday.

While districts locally met goals for moving students out of language programs in a timely process, nearly every district failed to make enough progress to meet state targets. Most of the local districts exceeded the statewide average.

Results from the 2011-12 Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives report can be complicated and the results sometimes misleading, according to Teresa Sayre, Phoenix-Talent School District's director of instructional services.

Sayre said that while her district had just over 13 percent of students exit ELL programs last year, the majority of the district's 430 ELL students are in elementary school and most not old enough to have had five years of instruction, the state requirement for time to become language proficient.

The district had 57 students deemed proficient enough in English to be moved out of the program last year.

"Every measure you have to dig deeper and find out what it means in our district," said Sayre.

Each student in the ELL program is expected to move from level 1 through level 5, at which point they are deemed proficient and exit the program.

"They are very aware of what level they are in and are motivated to move through the levels," said Sayre.

In some cases, students make substantial growth but don't quite make the threshold to pass onto the next level.

Sayre said she knew of a kindergartner last year who had 20 points of growth on standardized tests over the last year but didn't score high enough on the language test to move from level 2 to level 3.

Sayre said she has contacted the state for an answer on how much growth is expected to happen between each language level.

Sayre said the numbers also don't reflect the number of students who move in and out of a district versus those who stay for the duration of their time in the language program.

"The mobility rate is really high here," said Sayre.

Districts are measured on whether enough students progressed through one of the five ELL levels, whether enough left the program entirely and whether ELL students met benchmarks in state assessment tests, data already released in September.

In 2010-11, about 270 of the county's then-2,300 ELL students tested out of language programs.

In Medford, 174 of the district 984 ELL students made enough progress to exit the program, but the district's 55 percent of students moving up a level in proficiency came just short of the state goal of 57 percent.

Across the county, only Ashland School District had high enough marks to meet overall AMAOs, after failing to do so last year. Ashland had only 56 ELL students enrolled.

Each of the four AMAO categories must be met for a district to have met overall targets. Ashland was not rated on standardized tests, but still was listed as one of only 19 of Oregon's 197 school districts able to hit the overall targets.

Reach reporter Teresa Ristow at 541-776-4459 or tristow@mailtribune.com.