With thousands of Oregon students learning English as a second language, most school districts fell well short of getting even half of them proficient within five years, according to state data released last week.

Most Eastern Oregon districts also followed that trend in 2008-09, according to the state Department of Education. Only one - the Stanfield School District - surpassed all three federal targets and earned a passing grade for its English language development.

"It means a lot to us,"?said Kevin Headings, who will step in as Stanfield's superintendent next month. "It kind of falls into the vision we've had the last few years in upping the student achievement in all of our areas."

The data are part of the Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives report, or AMAO, a requirement under the federal No Child Left Behind law.

To earn an overall passing rating, districts had to meet three targets: at least 35 percent of English Language Learners (ELL) moving up a level of English proficiency, at least 50 percent of fifth-year ELL students grasping enough to exit the program, and those students meeting adequate yearly progress under federal law, or AYP.

Statewide, most districts met the first requirement. But few met the other two. Only 16 districts in Oregon - about 11 percent - graduated their ELL?students out of the program in their fifth year, though some districts didn't have a big enough ELL?group to register a rating.

Those numbers still drew the attention of state Superintendent Susan Castillo.

"Although it is encouraging that the majority of students learning English are making adequate yearly progress, Oregon is still falling short at ensuring each year that half of five-year ELL students are ready to transition out of English language instruction," Castillo said in a released statement. "We must improve our collective efforts to produce the results we all want for every ELL student."

About a quarter of Milton-Freewater School District students are ELL. Like most districts, it met on one of the three AMAO?targets.

Milton-Freewater director of student services Dave Marshall said the state's overall struggles might be a symptom of an evolving ELL program. Only recently has it received emphasis as its own subject area, he said.

"The program statewide is just now starting to settle down,"?Marshall said.

Eastern Oregon's largest ELL?population belongs to the Hermiston School District. It performed better than the state as a whole, but still fell short of the federal targets.

About 46 percent of Hermiston's English-learners improved at least one level of proficiency last year, better than the 35 percent goal. But only 34 percent of its fifth-year ELL students exited the program. And that compares to just 26 percent statewide.

Most other local districts fared the same. The Echo School District earned passing marks, but its 11 ELL?students weren't enough to warrant a rating in two of the three federal targets.

Only Stanfield met all three.

Sandy Valadez has worked closely with Stanfield's ELL program over the years. The special education teacher said a big reason for the district's success now is engaging its Spanish-speaking parents - partly by offering free language classes or translating at some meetings. By helping them learn English, she said, that reaches their children, too.

"The big change has been opening those lines of communication,"?Valadez said. "There's been a big change in their attitude. ... We're just seeing more Hispanic parents get involved."

English growth is achieved by periods of English-only instruction, Valadez said. That immersion focus in Stanfield has yielded good results, she added.

In Eastern Oregon, ELL?instructors mostly deal with variations of Spanish. But Valadez noted more urban settings might encounter several foreign languages - a tall order to get each learning English from different backgrounds.

Headings said he wasn't surprised at most Oregon districts' struggles, given stiff requirements.

"To be honest with you, not really,"?he said. "We were one of those districts, and we could be in the future."

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