Magazine article Multicultural Education

Teachers' Perceptions of ELL Education: Potential Solutions to Overcome the Greatest Challenges

Magazine article Multicultural Education

Teachers' Perceptions of ELL Education: Potential Solutions to Overcome the Greatest Challenges

Article excerpt

Since implementation of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates, much attention has been focused on the education of the rapidly growing English language learners (ELLs) in U.S. schools. Disaggregated accountability reports for subgroups are required as a result of NCLB. Schools must report yearly progress in ELL students' growth in English proficiency, reading, and math tests, and schools must assure that all students are taught by highly qualified teachers. Rural school districts are especially challenged to provide inservice teachers with face to face professional development to meet the needs of increasing numbers of English learners (Sehlaoui, Seguin, & Kreicker, 2005).

Background

Demographics

During the academic year 2003-2004, 5.5 million students in the U. S. were limited English proficient (LEP), and 80 percent of these LEP students spoke Spanish as their first language (U.S. Department of Education, 2004). Hispanics continue to be the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the U.S. (Bernstein, 2006). The critical concern for effective linguistic minority education in the rural state of Idaho corresponds closely to the nationwide challenge.

Idaho's growth in limited English proficient students from the 1990 to 2000 census was greater than 200 percent (Office of English Language Acquisition, Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for LEP Students, 2004). Over 80 percent of Idaho's English learners come from Spanish-speaking backgrounds (Idaho State Board of Education, 2005), and the percentage of youth nineteen and younger in the Hispanic population is greater than the percentage of the same age group in the non-Hispanic population. Furthermore, the infant mortality rate of Hispanics in Idaho is slightly lower than the rate for non-Hispanics (Idaho Commission on Hispanic Affairs, 2004).

ELL Academic Achievement

Rapid growth in the ELL and Hispanic student populations demands attention among educators and teacher education programs, as the academic success rate of Hispanic students nationwide and in Idaho has consistently lagged well behind the rest of the student population (Bergman, 2005). From fall 1993 through spring 2004, Idaho's Hispanic cohort dropout rate estimates ranged between 42.61 percent and 23.19 percent. The actual number of dropouts in grades nine through twelve reported by school districts to the state department of education during this time period totaled 7,358 students (Idaho State Department of Education, 2004).

Recent school reports in the state clearly indicate that a gap exists between academic achievement rates of Idaho's Latino students and majority students. Data for the Idaho Standards Achievement Tests (ISAT) compiled by the state department of education following the 2004-2005 academic year reveal discrepancies in achievement for Idaho's largest LEP ethnic subgroup in all three areas tested by the ISAT: reading, language usage, and mathematics (Idaho State Department of Education, 2005).

Teacher Supply and Qualifications

As in the nation as a whole, Idaho educators with the requisite knowledge and skills to work effectively with linguistic minority students have been in short supply. During the 2002-03 school year 5.64 percent of the state's ESL and bilingual teachers were not fully certified, which represented a higher percentage of non-certificated teachers than all other teaching areas (Stefanic, 2002). Reports indicate that ESL positions have consistently been among the most difficult for schools to fill between the 2002-03 and 2005-06 academic years (Howard, Stefanic, & Norton, 2006). Seventy-two percent of the school districts in the state with vacancies in ESL in 2005-06 reported the positions were hard to fill or very hard to fill (Balcom, 2006).

The majority of ELL teachers of academic content have been education assistants rather than certified teachers, and the state's consulting evaluator who issued the report in 2002 for ELL education in Idaho surmised that most of the ELL certified content teachers had received ESL strategies through workshops or inservice rather than through ongoing, sustained professional development or coursework in their pre-service certification programs (Hargett, 2002). …

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