By Rhonda Bodfield
Tucson, Arizona | Published: http://www.azstarnet.com/sn/education/245740
The state's education chief released further guidance Thursday on how school districts should teach English- language learners next year — but it isn't clear exactly how the guidelines impact local districts.
The guidelines outline alternative models that would comply with a new state law that says non-English-speakers have to spend four hours in intensive, segregated English instruction starting in the fall.
A state task force has been created to oversee the implementation of the programs but so far has approved few alternative models.
In April, it approved a model used by the Glendale Union High School District, which states students can have as few as two hours of intensive-English instruction if they meet a host of requirements. They must be either juniors or seniors, enrolled in Arizona schools for at least two years, must score well on AIMS subtests and language tests, and must have at least a C equivalent in their core classes. Glendale officials estimated 14 percent of the district's English learners meet the criteria.
In June, the task force also approved an alternative requested by the Phoenix Union High School District, which requires the most basic English learners to stick with the four hours of instruction but allows three hours of instruction for more advanced students in very narrow circumstances and classes.
Several local districts, including the Tucson Unified School District, have so far unsuccessfully sought a mixed model. TUSD's model would consist of two hours of segregated instruction combined with two hours of English content taught in the general classroom.
TUSD spokeswoman Chyrl Lander said the district had no comment on the new guidelines because they were still being reviewed. On Tuesday, the Governing Board passed a resolution asking for a delay in implementing the law, saying it promotes segregation of students and is not financially feasible.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said the state's 13 percent reclassification rate of English learners to "proficient" status is "scandalously low," and he criticized TUSD overall for "not doing a good job of teaching kids English."
Even so, he said he was disappointed that the task force rejected his calls for greater flexibility.
Horne said he supports exempting schools from such intensive direct instruction if there are relatively few English learners, because presumably they will learn from their English-speaking peers. He also supports giving schools more leeway if they have a proven track record of success. Success, he said, could mean reclassifying at least 30 percent of English learners every year, or if more than 60 percent of English learners in the program for two years passed all three AIMS tests.
"I don't believe in changing something that's already successful," he said.
Using Horne's criteria, three schools in the Sunnyside Unified School District would have been eligible: Liberty, Craycroft and Gallego. About 14 TUSD schools would have been eligible as well, according to Horne, including Lineweaver, Booth-Fickett and Pueblo Gardens.
● Contact reporter Rhonda Bodfield at 8 06-7754 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.