Population Differences >> Limited English

State law directs school districts to provide bilingual instruction to English Language Learners.  In 2011-2012, however, fewer than 13% of eligible students in Washington received primary-language instruction.

Graduation from high school is a prerequisite for higher education and for most living-wage jobs. However, poverty and lack of proficiency in English can compromise students’ chances for success. 

Proficiency in reading and writing English are prerequisites for high school graduation in Washington State.  Serving the most diverse language communities in the state, King County school districts face extraordinary challenges in trying to help all students earn a high school diploma.

7 King County districts (Highline, Tukwila, Kent, Federal Way, Auburn, Seattle, and Renton) served student populations in which more than 1 in 10 students had limited proficiency in English. These districts were among the 8 King County districts with the lowest on-time graduation rates for 2011-2012.

  • Tukwila and Highline – consistently lowest on academic achievement – had the highest proportions of English Language Learners (35.1% for Tukwila and 20.9% for Highline). 
  •  In 10 King County school districts, more than 1,000 students were classified as “English Language Learners” (ELLs). The districts with the most ELLs were Seattle (5,791), Kent (4,784), Highline (4,181), and Federal Way (3,175).  A total of more than 29,000 ELLs were enrolled in King County districts.

Statewide, of students who “successfully transitioned” from their districts’ English Language Learning programs (and were no longer classified as having limited English proficiency), the following proportions met state academic standards in 2011-2012:

  • Reading:  56.3% (vs. 72.7% in the state overall)
  • Writing:  61.4% (vs. 73.7% in the state overall)
  • Math:  56.1% (vs. 61.5% in the state overall)
  • Science:  38.6% (vs. 67.0% in the state overall)

Research has shown that a student’s academic performance over time is better if more instruction is provided in the student’s primary language.

  • Despite a state law directing all school districts to provide bilingual instruction to English Language Learners, fewer than 13% of eligible students in Washington received primary-language instruction in the 2011-2012 school year.
  • In most Washington school districts, Spanish was the primary language of at least 95% of English learners. In contrast, 12 of King County’s 19 districts served students from more than 50 different language groups.  
  • While the challenges of meeting the demand for bilingual instruction in King County’s diverse districts are considerable, failing to do so will profoundly narrow the opportunities for thousands of children.