Feds ease testing progress requirements
for limited-English students
Feb. 19, 2004 10:20 AM
WASHINGTON - Schools are getting more flexibility in how they test and measure
the progress of students with limited English skills as the Bush administration
again tries to address concerns over the government's education overhaul.
A policy announced Thursday offers two broad changes for some of the 5.5 million
public school students learning English as a second language. In turn, many
districts and schools may find it easier to make yearly progress goals and avoid
federal penalties under the No Child Left Behind Law.
In their first year at a U.S. school, students with limited English skills will
be allowed to take only a test in how well they know the language. That means
the formerly required test in reading and writing academic ability will become
Schools could count these students toward meeting the law's test participation
rate, but their reading and math scores would not have to count in school
The goal is to give teachers and students more time for English instruction. But
the change will take pressure off schools that get poverty aid and face
penalties for failing to show enough gains among students in major racial,
ethnic and other subgroups.
The second change will allow schools to consider students as having limited
English skills for as long as two years after these students become proficient
and leave the language program.
The point is to address a common complaint from states and schools: that English
learners will never show enough math or reading achievement because their group
includes only students further behind, not the ones who improve and leave it.
"We've very pleased that they are making this move," said Michele McLaughlin,
assistant director of the American Federation of Teachers, which has criticized
the department's enforcement of the law. "This was flexibility they had already
given on a piecemeal basis to basically any state that was smart enough to ask
The policy changes take effect immediately. The public will have a chance to
comment before a final regulation is issued.
Some schools have ended up on a public needs improvement list and have had to
offer transfers or private tutoring, based solely on the scores of English
learners. Those scores are bound to go up when two years worth of tests from
better English students are thrown in.
But an Education Department official familiar with the change said it makes
sense because even students who pass English-language tests still have limited
English skills in math and reading content.
English language learners in U.S. schools speak more than 400 languages,
although 80 percent of them speak Spanish as their primary language.
The nonpartisan Center on Education Policy's recent review of the law revealed
many educators considered the rules for English learners, and those for disabled
students, to be unreasonable. The department has now issued changes in both
areas over the last three months, reflecting a willingness, its leaders say, to
respond to states and districts.
"We are listening to their issues and ideas
for improvement as the law
continues to be implemented," Education Secretary Rod Paige said. "Our goal is
to provide the maximum flexibility while remaining faithful to the spirit
of the law."
That law is causing many states concerns about its costs and requirements.
Almost 20 are considering different ways to opt out the law, jeopardizing
some federal dollars.
On the Net:
Education Department on the law: