Flawed tests are ruing 'English only' choices
April 25, 2003
The implementation guidelines for Proposi tion 203, the state's English-only
education law, will effectively eliminate what little remnant of parental choice
remained after the initiative be came law.
"This law will give choices to parents who never had choice," said Margaret
Dugan during a debate two years ago. Back then she was a vehement campaigner for
Proposition 203; now she is state schools chief Tom Horne's enforcer.
But neither Horne, who drafted the guidelines, nor Dugan are interested in
choices any more.
Not parents' choices, anyway.
A parent's right to obtain a "waiver" from the English-only requirement, once a
campaign promise to win skeptical vot ers, is soon to become a meaningless word.
The law says instruction shall be "overwhelmingly in English," a requirement
that "may be waived with the prior written informed consent" of parents. The
main waiver provision is for children who al ready know English. A child who
already knows English, according to the law, is one who scores "at or above the
state average" on a test of English. That's clear enough. Parents and teachers
have used this waiver to place bilingual children in a variety of multilingual
programs, such as dual language programs that mix English and Spanish speakers
in a single classroom and aim for bilingualism for both groups.
But according to Horne, only children who score at the publisher's prescribed
"pass ing" mark will be eligible for waivers. That's a significant change, and
not at all in keep ing with the text of the initia tive.
Tests are far from perfect, and the English tests sanc tioned by this state are
far too difficult.
In a recent study at ASU, for instance, one of the most com mon English tests
used in Ari zona was administered to mature English speakers who knew no other
language. Remarkably, none of these children scored in the "fluent" range, and
16 percent were rated with "negligible English."
If monolingual English speakers can't pass such tests, then English learners
probably won't either.
No pass means no waiver. And no waiver means all the choices belong to Horne and
Not all kids are alike, and parents and teachers need some flexibility to meet
students' individual needs.
Together with Ron Unz, Horne and Dugan made the rules and vigorously fought to
establish them. Can't they at least now abide by them?
The writer is an assistant professor of education at ASU and an organizer of
next week's fourth International Symposium on Bilingualism at the university.