English learners a small part of overall failures
Arizona Daily Star
May 11, 2008

English learners a small part of overall failures

By George B. Sánchez

Arizona Daily Star

Tucson, Arizona | Published: 05.11.2008



The Star's investigation of social promotion found that students in English-language learner classes account for a relatively small portion of the failures in eight Tucson-area school districts.

The finding comes as rhetoric from the national immigration maelstrom prompts questions about the effects of English-language learners on Arizona's public school system.

Fewer than 10 percent of students in ELL classes in the Tucson Unified School District failed their respective courses, much lower than the average failure rate of all students. TUSD records do not identify English-language learners in mainstream classes, though.

The most current records show there are 7,832 ELL students in TUSD, amounting to about 13 percent of the district's total population of nearly 60,000 students.

Meanwhile, of the more than 300,000 middle- and high-school students included in the Star's multi-year analysis, one of six failed at least one core class — nearly 17 percent.

Tucson's largest school district, TUSD was the only local district with electronic records that label classes as English-language acquisition classes.

Steve Holmes, TUSD's assistant superintendent for teaching and learning, said the Star's findings were consistent with the district's records. Failure in ELL classes — also called English as a Second Language, or ESL — are rare, he said.

"ESL is a basic, fundamental course," Holmes said. "In most cases, those students are highly motivated. There's a real sense of urgency with those students and an expectation from parents to learn English."

Other findings related to ELL students in TUSD:

● There are 32 middle and high schools in TUSD, but only 17 had students who failed English-language learner classes.

● Twelve of the 17 schools had fewer than 10 students who failed an ELL class.

● Pueblo Magnet High School, 3500 S. 12th Ave., had 70 students fail one or more ELL classes last year and accounted for the largest number of failures in a single school.

● At Catalina High Magnet School, 3645 E. Pima St., 37 students failed one or more ELL classes.

Failures in ESL classes typically are due to a few reasons, Holmes said.

"If students are failing ESL, it's because they didn't show up or didn't do any of the class work," he said.

Where there are large pockets of failure in ESL classes, it also may reflect ineffective teaching, he added.

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● Contact reporter George B. Sánchez at 573-4195 or at gsanchez@azstarnet.com.