IPSD204 Board of Education discusses increase in English learners

Front shot of IPSD204 Howard Crouse Education Center
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The English Language Learning (ELL) program at Indian Prairie School District 204 has seen a steady increase in students, which has some IPSD204 officials thinking additional staff for the program is needed.

That, along with current resources for the program, and a closer look at the program’s numbers, was discussed during the most recent IPSD204 Board of Education meeting.

What is the English Language Learning Program?

The ELL program covers English as a Second Language (ESL), a program for students whose home language is not English and who need additional support to reach English proficiency.

It also covers Bilingual Education programs, including Transitional Bilingual Education (TBE) and the Developmental Bilingual program.

TBE first instructs and supports students in their native language followed by English so that they are prepared when they transition into an English-only classroom. The Developmental Bilingual program offers instruction in both Spanish and English the entire time so that students can become bilingual and bicultural.

All District 204 schools have ESL, while 19 schools have TBE. The Developmental Bilingual program is only at Georgetown Elementary School.

Growth in the number of English Learners

The number of English learners (ELs) has been on a steady upward trend in the district, with 3,963 ELs in the 2023-2024 year. That’s a growth from 3,413 in 2022-2023 and 3,072 in 2021-2022.

But school officials noted that over the past two decades, the total number of students in the district has gone down. In the 2005-2006 school year, the district had 33,500 students with 850 ELs and currently, there are 26,032 students with 3,963 ELs, which is 15.2% of all students.

“This is particularly alarming when you see that we are almost at 4,000 students and I guarantee you that by the end of this school year, we will be at over 4,000 students that are English Language Learners,” said Rafael Segarra, Director of English Language Learners at IPSD204.

The district has been hiring more ELL staff over the years, going from 95 in 2022-2023 to 111 this academic year. Most of the incoming staff has been teacher assistants from the community and additional support is needed every year according to Segarra.

While board members were in support of additional resources for the ELL program, the issue lies within the tight budget and teacher availability.

“[We need to] try to the best of our ability to make sure that those students have the staffing available because if we’re not doing that, and not doing our best to do that, we’re doing a disservice to those students,” said IPSD204 board member Mark Rising

Supporting the ELL community

District 204 has created the Newcomers Committee to help address the specific needs of ELs and their families. 

The committee focuses on data collection, curriculum considerations, resources, and the social and emotional needs of students, their families, and staff.

This year, IPSD204 has also brought in two parent coordinators for immigrant family support who have had 89 families referred to them by the district, 70 hours of family contact time, and more than 60 calls on the language line in the first two months.

Exiting the ELL program

To exit the ELL program, ELs take the WIDA ACCESS test to examine their proficiency. Those students must score a 4.8 out of 6 to exit the program. 

District 204’s student exit percentage has dropped from 21.5% in 2021 to 17.5% in 2022, currently sitting at 15.5% in 2023. But though those percentages are down, the total number of students leaving the program has actually increased in the district from 341 (not including second and third-graders) in 2021 to 465 in 2022 to 486 in 2023.

“We are exiting more students every year, it’s just that we have so many more students [coming in] that the percentage decreases [so] when you’re comparing those two, it just doesn’t correlate appropriately,” said Segarra.

District 204’s exit percentage remains higher than the state average which was 8.5% in 2021, 6.1% in 2022, and 5.8% in 2023.

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