homepage logo

School district revises its English Language Learners program; Report indicates 18.9 percent of Florida’s population is foreign born

By Staff | Sep 30, 2008

It could be more important than ever for Lee County students to learn a foreign language such as Spanish in light of a report released last week by the U.S. Census Bureau stating that foreign languages are being spoken in more American homes than ever before.

At the same time, local schools are working diligently to teach language skills to a growing population of students not fluent in English. Last week the Lee County School District announced it was revising some of its English Language Learners program.

Nationwide the bureau estimates that 35 million people, or 12 percent of the U.S. population, speaks Spanish at home.

Florida is one of five states — along with California, New York, New Jersey and Nevada — with the largest foreign-born populations. According to the bureau, 18.9 percent of the state population is foreign born and nearly one-third of those are from Mexico.

The Lee County School District works with 6,804 students — 5,531 who speak Spanish — in the ELL program. These are students who are asked a number of questions about their main language before they enroll. If they answer “yes” to any of the questions, then they are eligible for the ELL program.

Each year more students are coming from homes were English is not the first language, making it difficult as they transition from home to school and attempt to process information between English and Spanish.

Nineteen percent of the U.S. population over the age of 5 spoke a language other than English in the home, according to the report, and in Florida that number was 26 percent.

In fact, Florida is one of 10 states that has the highest percentage of people speaking a foreign language at home.

Recently the school district discussed its English Language Learner plan that will be in effect from 2009 until 2012 — it must be updated every three years. The name of the plan, formerly known as English Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), was changed to ELL but it is similar in many ways to the old program.

“It covers procedures to ensure that English language learners have the opportunity for services,” explained Dr. Sheryl Clarke, director of Intervention Programs, who briefed the school board on the issue last week.

Changes in the district’s ELL plan include how students enter and exit the program.

Any students who are being considered for an ELL program need to take the Language Assessment Battery, an exam that determines their skill.

In Lee County, it previously took a score under 61 percent for a student to qualify for ELL, but with revisions will decrease that percentile to 32 percent, meaning that less students will be entering the program in the long run.

Clarke explained that students who gain entrance into the program will be enrolled in one of three options: a sheltered model, inclusion into the basic core classes or an intensive-sheltered program in middle or secondary schools.

According to revisions in the district’s plan, a student can only exit the program after scoring a certain level on the Comprehensive English Language Learner Assessment and over a level three on the FCAT.

Each student needs to pass two indicators, she said, but she assured the board that “they have to be pretty high functioning and on grade level,” before they exit the ELL program.