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School board to review English Language Learners plan

By Staff | Oct 7, 2008

During today’s Lee County School Board meeting, there will be a public hearing to approve the district’s updated English Language Learners plan that deals with 6,804 students not fluent in English.

Formerly known as English Speakers of Other Languages or ESOL, students are enrolled in English Language Learners or ELL if they come from a household where English is not the primary language. Many of these students are first generation immigrants whose parents grew up in a foreign country.

The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 35 million people, or 12 percent of the U.S. population, speaks Spanish at home. Furthermore, the Pew Hispanic Center stated that one out of five Hispanic students in the United States have difficulties with the English language.

According to the school district, the ELL plan aligns with the Multicultural Education Training Advocacy’s consent decree which states that students need to be identified, assessed, have equal access to appropriate instruction and receive monitoring from staff.

The decree was created in 2003 because of a class action lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in 1990 by 80 minority rights groups in Florida claiming that the state Board of Education had not complied with federal and state laws requiring equal opportunities for ELL students.

If approved, the updated ELL plan will be presented to the Parent Leadership Counsel for feedback and revisions. Later, it is forwarded to the state Department of Education for its final stamp of approval.

According to federal standards under No Child Left Behind, the Lee County School District did not meet Adequate Yearly Progress or AYP in 2007 to 2008 for English Language Learners. ELL students needed to earn a 58 percent in reading and a 62 percent in math to meet AYP. These students scored 28 percent in reading and 37 percent in math.

ELL programs nationwide immerse students in language instruction to prepare them for being able to understand textbooks and teachers who communicate in English. The school district’s ELL plan needs to be updated and revised every three years, and the proposed plan would last from 2009 to 2012.

A significant change in the new plan is in the score needed to enter an ELL program.

Students who are considered for the program take the Language Assessment Battery, an exam that determines their English language skills. Until now students who scored under the 61 percentile would qualify for the ELL program. The new plan lowers the bar to those under the 32 percentile.

This could mean that less students will be allowed to enter the program, even though the population of non-English speakers continues to grow.

Browder and his staff will present the new plan to the board tonight and the public will have the opportunity to voice their opinions.

Dr. Sheryl Clarke, director of Intervention Programs, explained last week that “the plan covers procedures to ensure that English Language Learners have the opportunity for services.”

Exiting the program will require a student to earn a certain score on the Comprehensive English Language Learner Assessment or CELLA, and above a Level III on the FCAT.