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Helping Immigrants Succeed in Maryland Public Schools

More than 65,000 English-language learners are enrolled in Maryland public schools. (AFS USA/
More than 65,000 English-language learners are enrolled in Maryland public schools. (AFS USA/
December 22, 2015

BALTIMORE - A state task force is extending its study of ways to improve public education for immigrant children in Maryland.

The number of English-language learners in the state's public schools has doubled to more than 65,000 in the past 10 years. Sean Johnson, legislative director for the Maryland State Education Association, said the schools need to do a better job of meeting those students' unique needs.

"Saying, 'Here is the standardized test that you need to take,' when maybe you don't have the grasp of the language that you need to perform well," he said. "That's not meeting those needs."

The task force is developing resources for teachers to help them adapt classroom practices and increase parental involvement for their students from immigrant families.

According to state test results, a little more than 3 percent of English-language learners in third through eighth grades meet the standards on state reading tests. Johnson said passage of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, which takes some of the emphasis off standardized tests, can help.

"When we have more time for one-on-one instruction and less time on test-taking," he said, "we have a better opportunity of meeting the needs of students."

Johnson said helping immigrant students succeed benefits not only those who are new to this country but the entire community.

"Being able to bring in community-based resources and make schools a center of cultural awareness, and bringing folks together, is a critical piece of what the schools can do," he said.

The task force also is looking at ways to expand teacher training and working with other states to find new ways to help the growing numbers of immigrants in public schools succeed.

Andrea Sears, Public News Service - MD