State seeks quicker fluency for limited English speakers

Groups meet to find ways to meet needs for those learning language

The Nevada Department of Education is attempting to create a speedier route to fluency for limited English speakers in public schools.

The first step toward making that happen was taken Wednesday, as the department brought together individuals from the Hispanic, business, education and political arenas for a Las Vegas discussion on how to address the needs of English language learners.

The goal, said Nevada Superintendent of Schools Jack McLaughlin, is to develop a blueprint that can be followed by all schools in the state.

“This is an area of major need in our state,” McLaughlin said. “I’m not convinced we need a single program, but we do need a single standard for schools to work toward.”

In Nevada, about 12 percent of the total student population is made up of limited English speakers. The Silver State has one of the higher percentages of English language learners in the nation, ranking sixth behind California, New Mexico, Alaska, Arizona and Texas.

Most of the workshop participants agreed that a major weakness in Nevada’s model for bringing students to English fluency is the myriad programs in use without attention to follow-up on what’s proving to be effective.

Melba Parra, Clark County School District’s English Language Learner Program director, said that locally, it is a building or regional decision on what language programs to use.

Parra, who came to Clark County this year after working in a New Mexico district, suggested that a better system of accountability be developed for English Language Learner programs.

“I was really shocked when I arrived here and found everyone doing their own little thing in their own little world,” Parra said during the discussion. “There is no consistency in the materials used or in teacher training.”

George Cantu, a candidate for the Assembly District 11 seat, supported having a more uniform method of language instruction.

“You can’t hold the principals responsible if there is no standard program in place,” Cantu said.

Most of those at the workshop agreed that the academic standard for the English Language Program needs to be rigorous and comparable to curriculum standards for other subject areas. State Board of Education Member Priscilla Rocha said it’s vital to improve the programs now, since the population of limited English speakers is expected to keep growing.

“Unless we meet the needs of these students, they’ll continue to be dropouts,” Rocha said. “The system we have now isn’t working.”

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