The Arizona Republic
Mar. 9, 2007

Author: Josh Kelley, The Arizona Republic Estimated printed pages: 2

The number of students classified as English language learners in Mesa Public Schools has more than tripled over the last decade, impacting the way schools hire staff, train teachers and instruct students.

The number of English learners has climbed from 2,913 eight years ago to an estimated 9,109 this year, a rise of 213 percent.

At the same time, the school district's overall enrollment has slipped the last two years. This means the percentage of students who are English learners is growing at an even faster rate than ELL enrollment.

For each student classified ELL under state law, as deemed by a language-proficiency test, the district gets about $400 in state funding.
Attorneys are continuing to battle in federal court over whether the state provides adequate funding for the students. This year in Mesa, ELL enrollment is up by about 670, or 8 percent, over last year.

Irene Frklich, director of the district's English Language Acquisition Department, said this year's rise is due to more immigrants moving into Mesa and a new state test used to determine English proficiency that is designating more students as English learners.

Some educators say fewer students are testing proficient, while others say their numbers are up, said John Stollar, associate superintendent for accountability with the state Department of Education.

Statistics won't be available until the end of the year. This year about 135,000 students statewide are labeled English learners.

In response to Mesa's rise in English learners, Frklich said teachers have undergone professional development and provide more differentiated instruction to students. Schools must hire additional staff to work with students and administer the English proficiency test.

To pay for more staff and training, the district uses extra funding on top of the $400 per English learner allocated by the state, Frklich said.

She argues that the district could use 100 more assistants in classrooms.

Eisenhower Elementary Principal Patricia Estes said it's a challenge to keep qualified bilingual staff that administer the proficiency test, keep documentation on English learners, determine proficiency levels and monitor students after they are no longer English learners. Salaries are low, and private industry can pay more, Estes said.

Up to 35 percent of Eisenhower's roughly 770 students are English learners in a given year, with a much higher percentage in lower grades, including incoming kindergartners who must be tested for language proficiency.

"It's a real crunch at the beginning of the year because we have a deadline to get that administered," Estes said.

Every teacher in her school is trained to teach English learners, who are spread across classrooms.

"You want a good mix," she said. "You don't want to stick all the Spanish-speaking students in one because they won't learn as quickly."