Audit looks at language programs
Arizona Republic
April 24, 2008


Pat Kossan

Just how a student learns to speak, read and write English in Arizona depends on the school the child happens to attend, according to a report released Wednesday by the Office of the Auditor General.

A sampling of 18 districts and charter schools showed only three were beginning to put into place the state's new model language program this year. It requires students to spend four hours a day learning grammar, reading and writing.

All schools are required to have the program in place next year. It is an effort to create a more uniform and intensive approach to teaching English.

In 2007, the latest data available, half of all language learners in the sample schools spent their entire day in a regular classroom, auditors reported. The students received no special instruction in English. Most of the other students received two to three hours a day. Auditors also reported that between 2006 and 2007, 63 percent of the sample language learners remained at the same English proficiency level or regressed.

"The low rate of students learning English in the past is a scandal," schools Superintendent Tom Horne said. "We are determined to change that."

But tracking student progress could be difficult. Schools are paid extra money for each student learning English, but the state Department of Education is struggling to track the exact number of English learners, now estimated at 138,449, or about 14 percent of the state's students, auditors reported.

Auditors recommended that the state improve the way it determines when students enter and exit language programs and better verify information schools submit. Horne agrees but said money for improvements is scarce.