The Tahlequah Public Schools District instructs more than 3,500 students each day, and some of them need additional services to help them succeed.

This year, 383 students fall under the category of English language learners, meaning English is not their native or first language. TPS uses "EL" for an abbreviation of the English learners.

The EL population has been between 9 to 11 percent of the district's total population over the past five school years. The state percentage is around 19 percent.

Students, of all grade levels, are identified for the EL program through an initial screening with parents or guardians, according to Anita Lightcap, executive director of elementary education.

Questions asked to identify students include: "What is the dominant language most often spoken by the student?" "What is the language routinely spoken in the home, regardless of the language spoken by the student?" "What language was first learned by the student?"

The native languages of some Tahlequah students include Chinese, Spanish, Cherokee, Navajo, Urdu, Korean, Japanese, German, Slovak, French, and Albanian.

TPS has four interpreters.

"The district employs interpreters who work with students in classrooms to help them understand the content being taught in order to assure they learn content during the years they are working on English proficiency. Interpreters are also available during parent-teacher conferences," said Lightcap.

Polly Winburn, migrant recruiter and English Language Learner community liaison, works with elementary students. She said the EL group work is done in English, since not all the students in the group will speak the same native language. Her knowledge of Spanish helps her mainly to communicate with parents.

Each fall, an English Language Academic Plan is written for every EL student.

"Classroom teachers use this information to determine the students' current language ability, what the student is capable of doing, and language development growth goals for the coming year," said Lightcap. "Each plan addresses the four domains of language: listening, speaking, reading, and writing."

In the spring, EL students are given a language proficiency assessment chosen by the Oklahoma State Department of Education, measuring growth in all four language domains.

"The results of this assessment are used to determine whether students are on target to exit the EL program in five years," said Lightcap. "Each year, the language proficiency progress is used as one indicator reported on the A-F report card for each school."

EL students also undergo the same academic tests other students take in the spring.

"These assessments measure content achievement as measured by the Oklahoma Academic Standards in math, reading, writing and science in grades 5 and 8. All assessments are federal requirements as per the Every Students Succeeds Act signed into law on Dec. 10, 2015," said Lightcap.

She said the EL students and their families are served and assisted in a variety of ways.

"This school year, we are piloting a new software program designed to increase English language proficiency in a more timely and consistent manner. Using this program, students are assessed in their individual language growth in the fall and also in the winter," said Lightcap.

Services to which the district guides families include: high school equivalency test classes, English classes for those studying for high school equivalency tests, family literacy classes, counseling services, the Cappi Wadley Reading & Technology Center at Northeastern State University, Department of Human Services, and Social Security Administration. Families are also given information about the TPS Food Pantry and Backpack Program, and assistance with filling out the Free and Reduced Price School Meals applications.

Learn more

For information about services for English-language learners, contact Anita Lightcap at 918-458-4100, ext. 1011 or

What's next

The second part of the series will focus on special-needs students.

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