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Oregon Looks to Right the Ship for English-Learning Students

Parents and advocates for English-language learners gathered for a recent summit on Oregon's ELL programs. (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon)
Parents and advocates for English-language learners gathered for a recent summit on Oregon's ELL programs. (Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon)
September 22, 2016

PORTLAND, Ore. -- With the start of a new school year, there's renewed interest in a bill passed unanimously by the Oregon Legislature in 2015, aimed at improving programs for Oregon's 57,000 students learning English.

Many school districts have struggled to provide proper instruction for English-language learners, leading Oregonians to question how House Bill 3499 has addressed those students’ needs. For now, the state has set up an advisory board to watch where funding for E.L.L programs is going.

Wei-Wei Lou, a former E.L.L. program director in Beaverton, said transparency is an important component of the bill.

"This bill tries to create a clear guideline for school districts to realize what is appropriate funding for English-language learners, and what is not,” Lou said.

Before the bill was passed, the state had no uniform budget reporting for these programs, making it hard to determining where E.L.L. program money was going. The bill allocated more than $12 million every two years to districts’ E.L.L. programs.

Advocates said they are waiting for the Oregon Department of Education to produce a plan of action for intervention in low-performing school districts.

But some parents feel the legislation is too little, too late. Maria Delgado, Latino parent organizer for Unite Oregon, said she took her son and daughter out of their Portland high school because of the school's E.L.L. program.

"I noticed that she didn't need to be in the program because she was already bilingual, and she was basically wasting her education time,” Delgado said through a translator. "She wasn't finishing her requirements for graduation by being in this program."

Only half of Oregon students in English-learning programs currently graduate from high school. The state Department of Education has targeted 40 school districts for E.L.L. improvement.

Even with closer monitoring of the programs, another issue still remains. Lou said the next step is to provide a way to engage parents of E.L.L. students who may not understand English themselves.

"This parent is totally isolated from the school activities and any support that the school is trying to provide, or any support that the parent might need to help the child - the English-language learner in this case - to make progress,” Lou observed

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR