State to help Seattle adjust bilingual plan

The state schools superintendent will work with the Seattle School District to develop a plan on how to better acclimate immigrants into the classroom.

The study would include figuring how to teach English to immigrants more efficiently and getting them caught up with their peers in other academic subjects.

At a Seattle School Board retreat yesterday, state schools Superintendent Terry Bergeson said she wants her staff to work with the Seattle School District in the coming school year on ways to improve English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) and bilingual-education programs and use it as a state model. “If we can make it work in Seattle, we can make it work everywhere,” Bergeson said.

The School Board retreat at North Seattle Community College focused on everything from education reform to dealing with state budget cuts. Some School Board members were surprised when Bergeson spoke of her support in helping Seattle overhaul its programs that serve limited-English students.

The district sends many immigrant students to its Bilingual Orientation Centers to adapt them to English and to American school culture.

Students are supposed to transfer to an ESL program at a regular school after one semester. But some are kept there longer, and others that move into regular classrooms sometimes fall behind, administrators said.

The district, says Seattle Superintendent Joseph Olchefske, needs to update its 25-year-old program for educating these students, especially since the student body is much more diverse now. More than 60 languages are spoken by students in the district.

The district hopes to complete its program review by the end of the school year. Among areas that will be explored include improving teacher training, reviewing curriculum and studying other school districts with high immigrant-student populations.

After getting public input, a review committee made up of public-school administrators and community leaders in June will make a recommendation to the superintendent on how the Seattle district should overhaul its bilingual program.

Bergeson said the state also will offer experts in bilingual instruction to help with the study.

In the state, nearly 7 percent of students — about 66,000 — enroll in some kind of ESL or bilingual program, up from 4 percent 10 years ago.

Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or

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