BRADENTON -- The Manatee County School District has not met federal and state goals when it comes to helping English language learners excel in the classroom, according to the most recent data for the 2013-14 school year.
The Manatee district has not met all three goals in one year since the measurements were enacted in the 2006-07 school year. For the past two years, the school district did not meet any of the three goals. In some years, the district met goals in one or two of the three areas.
Manatee County is not alone in missing goals. Only a handful of Florida school districts have met all of the goals simultaneously for English language learners. Overall, the state is faring poorly when it comes to teaching English to speakers of other languages, according to the federal standards.
Manatee County School District is tackling the challenge this year with training and teaching strategies.
"We are implementing some extensive teacher training," said Debra Estes, the district's English for Speakers of Other Languages coordinator. "We have a lot of strategies."
Since the district receives Title III funding from the U.S.Department of Education, as part of No Child Left Behind, it is required to meet certain goals called Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives. The Title III funds are intended to help newly arrived immigrant children and other students who are learning English develop English proficiency and meet the grade-level requirements, as the rest of the students in Florida public schools are required to do, according to a letter sent home to parents and guardians on Friday.
Funding isn't affected, but they have to notify parents with the letter when the district doesn't reach the standards. The letter is sent in English, Spanish and Creole, and in other languages as needed.
In Manatee County, just 12 percent of the English language learners passed the FCAT reading test, according to the district. In math, 26 percent passed. The FCAT, which will no longer be used, was one of the two benchmarks for determining whether students are making gains. Students also take the Comprehensive English Learning Language Assessment to help determine their progress.
If the district fails to make adequate progress toward meeting the three major objectives, it must inform parents.
The first objective measures progress in learning the English language, the second one measures the percentage of students who become proficient in English, and the third objective measures student performance in reading and math to show if enough progress is being made to cut the percentage of non-proficient students by half by 2016-17, according to the letter.
Statewide, only two of the 67 regular school districts -- Gilchrest and Santa Rose -- met all three objectives. Eleven of the districts are not eligible and 54 of the 67 regular districts did not meet all three objectives, although many were successful in at least one of the objectives.
Nearby Sarasota made the first two objectives but missed the third one.
The Manatee district serves nearly 5,200 English language learners. A total of 67 percent of the English language learners were born in the United States, but English is not the primary language spoken at home, Estes said. While teachers don't want students to lose their language at home, it can make learning more difficult.
At the elementary level, students are fully immersed in regular classrooms. In the middle and high school levels, students may be pulled out for English but are integrated in the rest of the subjects. "It's a full immersion," Estes said. "That's one of the best ways to learn a language and it provides equal access to all."
In addition to teacher training, the district plans to turn to resource teachers, after-school and summer programs, and parent activities to provide additional support to help students make measurable academic gains. "That's our No. 1 goal -- to increase student achievement of our ELL students," Estes said.
Meghin Delaney, education reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7081. Follow her on Twitter @MeghinDelaney.