Ohio schools haven’t kept pace with growing number of English learners
Monday, November 20, 2023
Ohio schools are stepping up to meet the needs of a growing number of English learners.
Nearly 40% of around 60,000 English learners in the state speak Spanish as their primary language, but others speak Arabic, Chinese, Somali, Swahili and more.
Debbie Skarsten is an English Learners teacher in Pickerington. She said schools need certified teachers to provide a specialized curriculum, along with more training for other teachers, given a population that has doubled over the past decade.
Skarsten added that there's a significant difference between a child learning playground vocabulary and academic language required for testing.
"These students are required to take the same state tests that every other student takes," said Skarsten, "and pass the same standards that every other student - who grew up as a native English speaker - is expected to take, and at the same time frame."
National Center for Education Statistics data show nationwide, the percentage of public school students who were English learners rose by 4.5 million between 2010 and 2020.
Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia provide funding specifically for English language learners.
Lakota Local School District English as a Second Language Specialist Helen Vassiliou explained language isn't a disability, and said students should learn English in an environment that accounts for their native language skills.
She said many students arrive in the U.S. speaking multiple languages, meaning English is sometimes a child's third or fourth language.
"English learners should receive additional supports from counselors and social workers - as well as certified, licensed ESL specialists," said Vassiliou. "We should provide them and their families with support."
Research shows that grouping English learning students into small communities, training peer mentors, monitoring students' academic progress, and providing culturally responsive teaching are effective at helping English learners.
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