January 2014



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ELL student population growing in SD

This story is the first in a series on English Language Learners (ELLs) in South Dakota. Next month, learn more about professional development, consortium partnerships and other resources available to help schools meet the needs of ELL students.

It is difficult to define ELLs as a group other than to say that they are students whose native language is not English and that they are not yet proficient in English. Often, the commonalities end there. That’s because ELLs come from nearly every continent, and represent dozens, if not hundreds, of countries. They speak hundreds of languages, dialects and tongues.

In the United States, ELLs are more likely to be native born than to be immigrants or refugees. They come from every socioeconomic class within American society. Those who come from outside the United States may or may not have been receiving a formal education in their home country, may or may not be literate in their home language, and may or may not know some English.

There are three distinct populations of ELLs in South Dakota:

1) Hutterite colony students who have spoken only German until the time they enter school

2) Native American students

3) Refugees and immigrants

As of December 2013, 101 South Dakota school districts had at least one English Language Learner enrolled. The number of ELLs in South Dakota has grown from about 3,500 to approximately 5,000 in the past five to seven years. Shannon Malone, Title I Director for the South Dakota Department of Education, predicts that number could grow another 20 percent in the next five years.

“The growth in South Dakota’s refugee and immigrant student population is similar to what is happening in other parts of the country,” says Malone.

Industry is the primary factor driving the growth of the state’s ELL population. The largest immigrant and refugee populations are found in Sioux Falls and Huron, partly because of employment opportunities at meatpacking and processing plants. The Aberdeen area is also experiencing growth. The impact is being felt in smaller surrounding communities as well.

The federal government recently made a change regarding Native American students. Schools are no longer required to automatically identify Native American students as ELLs upon their entrance into school.

Meeting the needs of ELL students presents challenges for schools, not only in developing necessary programming but training teaching staff. Recognizing the unique challenges of educating ELLs, the 2013 South Dakota Legislature passed legislation that provides additional funding for students who are considered limited English proficient (LEP). The funding amounts to 25 percent of the current per-student allocation.

Learn more about resources available to schools as we continue our series in February.

For more information, contact Yutzil Rodriguez, South Dakota Department of Education Title Program Specialist, at (605) 773-4698.

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