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COOS COUNTY – Oregon schools are showing success in their English Language Learner program (ELL).

In a press release from the Oregon Department of Education (ODE), Oregon's ELL students who graduate from the program are doing better in school. Incidentally, they are doing better than ELL students still in the program.

“When they are in the program, they are still learning on how to be proficient, so until they graduate they are literally not proficient,” said Coos Bay School District Special Program Director Lisa DeSalvio. “They lack academic context and academic language. Fortunately, they are in the program for six years and once they graduate, we monitor them for two to three years to see how they are doing.”

The statewide five-year graduation rate for ELL students who completed the program is 80 percent, while those still in the program graduate at 78 percent. The freshmen on-track-to-graduate rate is 67 percent for current ELL students, while former ELL students are at 82 percent.

Last year the Coos Bay School District was identified by ODE because its ELL program wasn't doing well. Of course, the program is evaluated one year at a time, which takes two years. The year ODE deemed the district struggled with its program was back in 2014.

“That was the year where we had three high school students in the program and they either dropped out or moved to another school,” DeSalvio said.

Regardless, ODE gave the district $90,000 in February of this year to improve the program. The district used the money to purchase 40 chrome books and 40 licenses for Rosetta Stone. The computers were checked out to ELL students and their parents to be used for studying at home in both languages, which encourages the students to be bilingual.

“We also bought other software for kids to work on in their chrome books, as well as translator equipment to be used by parents during activities at the school,” DeSalvio said. “They can put on headsets to hear the translation, hopefully encouraging them to be more involved.”

Most of the ELL students have come in at the kindergarten level, though this past year some have entered in middle and high school grades. The older students knew zero English.

“Because they had no English language knowledge, we did unusual out-of-the-box thinking,” DeSalvio said. “We had two students who we sent to (Southwestern Oregon Community College) to be part of their ELL program. These students went to that program every day for hours and then came back to our district for classes as well as more ELL hours. We gave them both to really infuse them. It was the first time we've ever done that.”

The majority of the district's ELL students are Spanish speaking. Last year, the program had one student from China.

“We're unusual in our program because most of our ELL populations are not from low income mobile families,” DeSalvio said. “These children come from families who own businesses here, who own restaurants or landscaping businesses, or from old families who have been here a long time. Speaking their native language at home is part of their culture.”

“If we are going to reduce the opportunity and achievement gaps our English Learners face, it is important to identify and act on the areas where we can do better,” Deputy Superintendent Salam Noor said in the press release. “The report shows that students exiting the English Learner program graduate at a higher rate than the state average, so focusing on helping them achieve this milestone ultimately benefits them and strengthens our state’s economic future.”

Reporter Jillian Ward can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 235, or by email at jillian.ward@theworldlink.com. Follow her on Twitter: @JE_Wardwriter.

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