Seattle schools to expand English language services after critical review
Seattle Public Schools is making big changes in how it serves nonnative English speakers after the state said its existing system is inadequate.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Seattle Public Schools will make big changes in how it serves students whose first language is not English after a critical review from the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction.
The school district, already in hot water over its special-education services, also is falling short in how it serves students whose first language is not English, state officials say.
According to district officials, the state superintendent’s office found that over the past two years, the district has failed to give a required English placement test to roughly 1,200 students who reported speaking a language other than English at home.
The state also said the way the district organizes its English Language Learners (ELL) programs — offering services at some schools, but not others — forced families to make “an unacceptable choice” between their neighborhood school and a school with the language services their child needed, said Veronica Gallardo, the district’s director of ELL and international programs.
The district has since decided to eliminate that strategy, she said, and will begin offering at least some services at all schools. It has until the end of the day Monday to show how it plans to fix what the state said is broken, said Nathan Olson, spokesman for the state superintendent’s office.
That office first notified the district in March that its English-language programs were out of compliance.
The state discovered the deficiencies in a two-day visit that is part of an annual review of all the district’s programs.
On Tuesday, Gallardo alerted principals of the upcoming changes in an email, which was first published on the Seattle Schools Community Forum blog.
The English Language Learns programs have been offered in 65 of its roughly 95 schools, which has been in effect at least since Gallardo arrived nine years ago, she said, mainly because not every school in Seattle has a large ELL population.
About 6,000 of Seattle’s 52,000 students are currently receiving English language services.
If parents wanted their child to enroll in a school without ELL services closer to their home, the district asked them to waive the child’s rights to ELL instruction.
In addition to expanding ELL services to all schools, Gallardo said the district will begin one-on-one training with enrollment staff, instead of group training, to clarify the language-testing requirements. She said she is looking at how several other districts — including Kent and Highline — approach ELL services.
The district must, by June, test the 1,200 students whose language skills were not assessed when they first enrolled in Seattle Public Schools.
To do that, she said, the staffers will be sent to those students’ schools to test them individually, and they also will hold an open testing day on a Saturday.
The district also faces a June deadline for its special-education corrective action plan.
Leah Todd: 206-464-8246 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @leahktodd