PHOENIX, Ore. – Oregon schools are failing to help students learn English according to a report released by the Department of Education earlier this month.
Bilingual programs are rated on what’s called the Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives, or AMAOs. It uses standardized testing to measure improvement in language proficiency.
Out of 76 districts tested this year, two met those objectives.
One of the many school districts that failed according to those standards is Phoenix-Talent school District. One of its schools, Phoenix Elementary, uses what’s called a two-way immersion program. All students, regardless off native language, spend half their time learning in English and the other half in Spanish.
Teachers say for Spanish-speaking students, mastering their native language while learning English is more effective than English-only.
“Because we’re spending time learning in Spanish doesn’t mean that’s impairing their English or slowing it down at all,” said fifth-grade teacher Lori McHenry. “In fact, research shows that when kids have a stronger foundation in their first language, they will transition and advance in their second language all the more fast.”
But that isn’t what the numbers show.
A look at state figures has the Phoenix-Talent School District somewhere in the middle – even failing to meet some objectives.
But administrators say the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“Is it a good indicator? Well, it gives you some information, but it doesn’t give you the whole picture,” said Javier Del Rio with the district’s Office of School Improvement.
What the AMAOs look at is improvement year-over-year. Del Rio says sometimes it takes two to three years for a student to flourish.
But schools that fail to meet those objectives find their funding at stake.
“It’s almost like saying, ‘Hey, your students aren’t doing that great, so in order to help you, we’re going to go ahead and take money away from you,’” said Del Rio. “Well that’s not a way to help.”
In Phoenix-Talent, 15% of the kids are English language learners. A quarter speak English, but their parents don’t.
Teachers say they’re worried about those kids, not the numbers.
“We can’t always be at the same benchmark all the time. We have kids that learn in a different way than other kids, and it might take them longer to reach that benchmark, but as long as they’re showing growth and advancing in their skills, that’s what we’re looking for,” said McHenry.
Lori’s students, both English and Spanish speakers, say they want to come out speaking both.
Because two is always better than one.
I think I like it,” said fifth grade student Kai Larson. “It would get me a lot better job opportunities.”