Tupelo • Starting this school year, the results of an English proficiency assessment given to English learners in Mississippi schools will factor into a district’s accountability grade.

Currently in Tupelo Public School District, only the middle and high schools have certified English Learner teachers. There, E.L. students take a traditional schedule of subjects taught in English but with one class period solely focused on English proficiency.

TPSD English Learner coordinator Lea Ann Dunklee has identified adding teachers with E.L. certifications to elementary schools as an area for growth. Without holding a separate class for English learners, certified E.L. teachers can create a classroom environment that works for students with different levels of English proficiency.

“We want certified teachers who know how to teach an English learner. We don’t put content learning on hold while you learn English, the idea is that you’re doing those two things at the same time,” Dunklee said. “And we’re not looking to separate English learners’ education into a different classroom. We’re looking to integrate. We want them in the classroom. We don’t want them as a segregated population.”

Beyond more certified teachers, Dunklee is also implementing a new data management tool to track E.L. students, adding benchmark assessments to follow progress throughout the year and offering professional development to any teachers, instructional coaches or administrators.

Of the 7,077 students in TPSD, 433 or 6.12 percent of students are either active or monitored E.L. students. Active E.L. students have not yet passed English proficiency exams. Monitored E.L. students receive support from E.L. teachers for four years after they pass a proficiency exam and are expected to function as an English-only student.

Currently, about three quarters of TPSD’s 327 active E.L. students are in kindergarten through fourth-grade. About three quarters of TPSD’s monitored E.L. student are in sixth through 12th-grade.

“In kindergarten and elementary school, you’re still teaching reading skills, so it can be easier to get those younger students up to proficiency,” Dunklee said. “Once we go past fourth-grade we’re no longer teaching students how to read, and it becomes much harder for an E.L. student to function in a class with his or her peers.”

The majority of TPSD’s E.L. learners speak Spanish, Arabic or Japanese at home. This school year, in addition to English proficiency test results impacting school ratings, a student has five years to pass English proficiency and exit ELL classes before a school starts losing accountability points.

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