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Enlighten Me: Helping Delaware's English language learners

Photo courtesy: Delaware Dept. of Education

When Holderline Lebreton was told she could take her world language proficiency test in her native Haitian Creole, she didn't hesitate to say yes.


Like all Delaware students, the Seaford High School senior needs to earn two credits in a world language other than English to graduate. But that requirement can be a major hurdle for kids from a non-English speaking home or background.

For these students, the demands of acclimating to America, learning English and juggling other coursework can feel overwhelming. Now, there is a program that offers students an alternative, “The Assessing Native Language Proficiency for English Learners Test.”  Seven Delaware school districts will receive a $45,000 grant to cover test costs following a successful pilot program last year at Seaford High School.


Currently, Delaware is home to more than 10,000 English language 

Credit U.S Department of Education
Percentage of English language learners in each state.

  learners. Between 1997 and 2015, the number of ELL's in the First State rose 369 percent. Research reveals that greater support for a student's native language is related to higher long term academic success. 


Michael Watson, Chief Academic officer for the Delaware Department of Education saw that first hand at Seaford High School where 26 students took and passed the test.


“It literally was a game changer for many of these students who were not feeling good about coming to school every day,” he said. “Instead, they were able to show their parents and show their teachers and classmates that they are smart but they are just lacking the language skills.”


Credit Delaware Department of Education
Delaware is home to more than 10,000 ELLs, 80 percent of whom are Latino students from 15 countries.

Nationally, the graduation rate for English-language learners in the class of 2014 rose to 62.6 percent, a slight increase over the previous year, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education last month.


Delaware fares better with a 77% graduation rate for ELL’s. 


That’s why Watson believes the state expenditure is money well spent.


“I would argue it’s a cost savings for Delaware,” he said. “School districts no longer have to use a unit for that teacher to train students in a language that they already know and we’re saving the state a tremendous amount of money by participating in this project.”


This year, Dover High School will use the Assessing Native Language grant to offer tests in eight languages, including Arabic, Tagalog and Urdu.