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Limited-English school deadline may gain a year
ARIZONA DAILY STAR
By Jennifer Sterba
Educators were cautiously optimistic about government policy changes announced
Thursday that could give students learning English a one-year reprieve from
standardized tests linked to federal funding.
The policy changes affect 21 Tucson schools whose students failed to make
academic progress according to federal guidelines. Nineteen schools are in
Tucson Unified School District - the largest in Tucson. Seven of those schools
are in jeopardy of losing federal dollars paid to schools with high numbers of
low-income students if they can't improve within two years.
The new policy states that 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. Those students can still take the AIMS and Stanford 9 tests if
they want to, but it won't count toward the school's overall scores.
Federal labeling of schools - as outlined under the No Child Left Behind Act -
requires all students, including the disabled and those learning English, to
test at grade level or make improvement on state and national achievement tests.
Repeated failure of one subgroup of students - such as those learning English -
to meet those benchmarks could jeopardize a school's federal funding.
Another policy change would allow the test scores of students who attain English
proficiency to still be counted toward the English-learning subgroup for up to
two years - allowing the school a chance to show academic progress.
"It may be a positive in terms of increasing our scores," said Anna Rivera,
senior academic officer of leadership for Tucson Unified School District. "The
flexibility allows schools to concentrate on English fluency - at the same time
teaching them the academics."
The policy, which goes into effect immediately, will still count the students
toward the federally required test participation rate. But their scores won't
count in a school's performance.
Schools with high numbers of students learning English have typically not been
able to meet federal testing requirements. There are 5.5 million students
learning English as a second language in the United States - 80 percent speak
Spanish as their primary language.
"We're very pleased that they're making this move," said Michele McLaughlin,
assistant director of the American Federation of Teachers, which has criticized
the federal Education Department's enforcement of No Child Left Behind
legislation in the past.
Arizona laws measuring school performance don't count test scores from students
learning English during their first three years of English instruction.
Nearly 26 percent of Arizonans speak a language other than English at home,
according to 2000 census data. The percentage rises to nearly 30 percent in
About 30 percent to 50 percent of the students attending TUSD schools failing
federal testing guidelines are learning English. But TUSD educators said it's
too early to tell if the policy changes go far enough to help those schools
escape a repeat failure this year.
Nearly a third of the students at Hohokam Middle School, 7400 S. Settler Road,
on the Southwest Side, are labeled English-language learners, according to the
district's Web site. Hohokam is one of the seven TUSD schools that have
repeatedly failed to meet the federal guidelines.
"I don't know if it's enough a change to be helpful," said Principal John
Michel. "It's going to give us a little boost. But I don't know how much."
A curriculum specialist for the school was cautious about what the policy change
"It would depend on the particulars and how it's implemented," said Clint
Carlton, who helps on both curriculum and professional development for Hohokam.
While all of Sunnyside Unified School District's schools met their testing goals
under federal guidelines, nearly four out of every 10 students in the district
are learning English.
"One year is certainly a start," said Jeannie Favela, director of language
acquisition and development for Sunnyside. "But I think there needs to be a
better understanding of how language acquisition works. Not just oral language,
but the deeper English skills students need to succeed academically."
° The Associated Press contributed to story. Contact reporter Jennifer Sterba at
573-4191 or firstname.lastname@example.org.