Growth Rate Slows for Bilingual Education Enrollment

But state still faces a shortage of those teachers, report finds.

The number of students in Washington’s bilingual education programs rose last year, but at a slower rate than the previous year, according to a new report by the state superintendent’s office.

There were 66,281 students enrolled in bilingual or English as a Second Language programs in the 1999-2000 school year, a 6.7 percent increase over the year before. The 1998-99 increase had been 9.1 percent over the year before.

But the state still faces a shortage in teachers qualified to teach such students, said the report by the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. It cited research that students need instruction in both their primary languages and in English in order to best succeed.

Statewide, 68 percent of students in limited English proficiency programs received little or no instruction in their primary languages, the report said.

State Superintendent Terry Bergeson said yesterday that she plans to ask the Legislature to support an expedited program to help classroom aides earn teaching certificates with endorsements to teach such classes.

The growth in the programs was not uniform. The Everett and Mukilteo districts saw a 45 percent rise in the number of students in limited English proficiency programs, while the numbers dropped in some other districts.
Seattle Public Schools, the state’s largest district, served 5,447 students in limited English proficiency programs last year, a 2.5 percent drop from the year before. In Tacoma, the numbers dropped 9.2 percent to 2,029 students.

The programs served students speaking 159 languages in Washington last year,
the report said, with more speaking Spanish – 61 percent – than all other languages combined.

Besides Spanish, six other languages were spoken by at least 1,000 students in Washington: Russian, Vietnamese, Ukrainian, Korean, Cambodian and Tagalog.

Statewide, more than half the languages were spoken by fewer than 10 students.

The Seattle district served students who spoke 59 languages last year, the second-highest number in the state, from Amharic (the official language of Ethiopia) to Vietnamese. (The Kent district served students who spoke 72 languages last year, the largest number.)

“In many parts of America, the issues of bilingualism typically relate to one language: Spanish,” Seattle Superintendent Joseph Olchefske said. “. . .
There’s a real challenge from a programmatic standpoint, but also a staffing standpoint, of, how do you find people who speak Oromo (a language spoken in Ethiopia and Kenya)?”

The district has successfully brought in instructional assistants that speak the same languages as the students, he said, adding that he would support programs to help such aides become certificated teachers.

“The research is incredibly clear (that) teachers who are trained to work with culturally and linguistically diverse students really makes all of the difference,” said Tom Stritikus, an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s College of Education, who helped work on the study.

“There are some real needs that these students have that are sort of obscured by misconceptions.”

P-I reporter Rebekah Denn can be reached at 206-448-8190 or rebekahdenn?

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