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English-Language Learners on Rise In Appalachia

Enrollment of English-language learners has steadily grown in three of four Appalachian region states—Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia—over the past four years, according to a new brief out today from the Institute of Education Sciences. A fourth Appalachian state—West Virginia—had a decline in its ELL population during that same period.

Kentucky by far saw the fastest rate of growth, with its ELL population rising nearly 45 percent in the period between 2005-06 and 2008-09, according to the report put together by the Regional Educational Laboratory Appalachia Region on behalf of IES. Kentucky saw the number of districts enrolling ELLs rise from 97 to 140 during that period. As a percentage of overall statewide enrollment, however, ELLs account for just about 2.3 percent of the K-12 population in the Bluegrass State.

The report does note that the numbers in Kentucky and Virginia could have been driven up by changes in the assessments the states use to identify ELLs.

Rural districts across all four states accounted for nearly half of the enrollment growth among ELLs, which of course, presents huge capacity challenges for communities with little to no experience educating students whose first language is not English. Finding staff who know how to provide instruction to ELLs is paramount, but just as challenging is communicating effectively with the parents of these students.

This report is yet more grist for the argument that all teacher preparation programs need to provide a strong background in instruction for ELLs to their teacher candidates.

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