NEW REPORT: Lost in Translation? English Language Learners in Walla Walla Public Schools

 Emily Basham, Adam Delgado, Cynthia Ramos-Orozco  

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Our project examines the relationship between the experiences of English Language Learner (ELL) students and parents and the policies and practices of teachers and administrators in Walla Walla Public Schools. The main research questions we investigated were:

a. How do the district’s policies for teaching English align with student, parent and teacher experiences and expectations?

b. How do different ELL instructional practices affect student, parent and teacher success?

c. How can the district improve ELL policies, practices and experiences?

Methods: Our study focused on Blue Ridge Elementary School, Garrison Middle School and Walla Walla High School (Wa-Hi). We interviewed students, parents, and staff at each school, as well as district administrators. We conducted 11 interviews with teachers, school administrators and district administrators for the staff perspective. Additionally, we conducted 3 personal interviews and 2 focus groups with a total of 9 parents, and 6 student focus groups with a total of 29 student participants.

Findings:

  • The Dual Language program is seen by the majority of ELL students, parents, and school staff as the ideal ESL instruction program for the district.
  • ELL parents were supportive of their children’s ESL education and recognized the importance of being involved at school, yet struggled with linguistic and socioeconomic barriers to full participation.
  • ELL students identified their language barrier as their primary obstacle, which adversely affects their academic performance and their relationships with teachers and other students.
  • Teachers support some form of student assessment and school accountability for ELL students, but were opposed to harsh penalties imposed on students and schools with low achievement on state assessments.

Recommendations:

  • Expand the traditional Dual Language Immersion program at Blue Ridge to Garrison, Wa-Hi and all schools with appropriately diverse populations, such as Green Park Elementary.
  • Adapt the model of Garrison Night School to similar ELL parent education programs at Blue Ridge and Wa-Hi to increase parent presence and interaction with their children’s own school.
  • Develop academic and social opportunities for ELL students, including access to bilingual textbooks, and transportation from afterschool programs.
  • Policymakers should reevaluate passage of the High School Proficiency Exam (HSPE) as a graduation requirement and offer standardized tests in other languages.

Community Partners: Diana and Bill Erickson. Diana is the Migrant/Bilingual/ESL Coordinator for the Walla Walla Public Schools and Bill is the Co-Advisor of the Latino Club at Wa-Hi.

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