ABILENE, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – Every year, international students travel to the U.S. to enroll in state schools. Abilene is no exception, and Abilene ISD’s seen an increase in international and refugee students compared to the last school year.

AISD offers three programs in the district to help set up international students for success. Upon arrival, students are given an introductory exam to test their knowledge of English in four components of reading, speaking, listening and comprehension.

Based on their results, the student can be placed in a dual language program, where students from one language group learn in two languages. Another option is the English Second Program, which is offered at all AISD campuses.

English as a Second Language (ESL) ensures that students get the help they need in the classroom and outside tutoring.

Lastly, international students, who know may not know any English at all, can attend the Newcomer Center to attend classes.

In the 2021-2022 school year, enrollment in these programs were 850 students. As of October 2022, that number grew to 923 – an 8.6% increase.

The increase in international students depends on if AISD receives student refugees. This year, the district received an influx of refugees from the Congo and international students from Afghanistan, and Latin American countries like El Salvador and Cuba.

Abilene ISD now has a student body that speaks more than 31 different languages. Languages include; Spanish, French, Vietnamese, Swahili, Tagalog – just to name a few. This number does not include the dialects spoken in these languages.

While there are some bilingual teachers to help out these students, the district has hired six interpreters to assist the new students. The interpreters travel across all campuses during the week to help the language barrier.

In order to exit the programs set in place for international students, the student would need to receive an “advanced high” score in the annual statewide TELPAS exam. The exam tests their proficiency in the English language.

In the last two years, no student has been able to meet the goal because the speaking portion of the test was ‘too difficult’ for international students.

Although passing the test is not a requirement, it is beneficial for students to receive a high score to increase their chances of career success post-graduation.

To help students meet this goal, AISD is getting more teachers certified to teach ESL and bilingual students. That’s in addition to meeting with campus administrators to review campus specific TELPAS scores.

The number of international students AISD has every school year varies, depending on what crises are going on in the world. But the district said it is happy to receive more international students to offer them the tools for success.