The Free Press, Mankato, MN

State, national news

April 24, 2014

Bills aim to improve English language instruction

English language learners integrated into mainstream classrooms

Minnesota's efforts to improve English-language instruction for the 65,000 students who speak another language at home could change.

A bill moving through the Legislature would encourage more districts to shift where English learners spend their time — and honor students' home language whenever possible.

Keeping ELL students in class whenever possible is one of the proposals state Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, has pushed this legislative session.

The bill is part of an effort to lift ELL students' academic performance. State data shows that in 2013 only 17 percent of ELL students were proficient in reading, 40 points lower than the state average. Less than 60 percent graduate after four years of high school.

Mariani also wants the state to view students' ability to speak a language other than English as an asset.

That would not mean foregoing English altogether in school for students who speak another language. But it could include classes to improve students' proficiency in their home languages, while teaching them English as well.

"My biggest fear is that we've approached those students from a need to remediate, fix them if you will, when what we really need to fix is the system and not the kids," he said.

Providing new programs and in some case adding teachers could cost the state $6 million.

Several districts have already begun experimenting with having ELL students spend more time in mainstream classrooms, an effort that aims to improve the performance of English learners who are struggling academically.

The schools that are modifying their methods include Centennial Elementary in Richfield where 60 percent of the students are English language learners.

Over the years, the school has tried different ways of teaching those students math and science, and English. The current model focuses on keeping ELL students in their regular classrooms as much as possible.

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