Bilingual Education Struggles Statewide

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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.”


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  1. PES parent says:

    I was disappointed at the negative light that this segment put on Phoenix/Talent school district. I would like to know more about the specifics of the standards and how the schools are falling behind. What are the standards measuring, do they look at each child from year to year for progress or each grade as a group? Do they take into account that some of these children do not attend school the entire year because of parent’s work visas or that a child may have moved to a school directly from Mexico without the ability to speak any English. How do we account for the challenge of children who’s parents do not speak English so they are not getting that additional influence and reinforcement from home.
    I have volunteered at PES on a weekly basis for 8 years and the progress that I have seen some of these children make is amazing! PES and Phoenix/Talent School District do a fantastic job at helping not only the children attending their school, but also families. I don’t understand how they cannot “measure-up”.
    On another note, I found it very interesting that you followed up the segment with a segment on Medford Schools hiring a PE teacher. The video clip that you showed when talking about Medford School District was from Phoenix Elementary…. hmmm…

  2. Former TES, TMS, PHS parent says:

    Bilingual education was one of the reasons we didn’t mind moving away from the P/T school district. It not only interferes with the children’s education, but was very frustrating. Any school meeting we attended moved at less than half speed because everything was repeated in Spanish. If people are going to live in the U.S., parents and students both should learn English and we should NOT be pandering to their “old country” customs or wasting time teaching their language. We’re doing a great deal of damage to our own country by allowing this kind of thing.

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