English language learners being undercounted
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 18, 2005 12:00 AM
Betty Reid

A state audit shows that the Roosevelt School District has severely undercounted the number of English language learners it has enrolled, and that could result in the loss of tens of thousands of dollars in funding.

Furthermore, the audit showed that some Roosevelt schools made little effort
to account for their ELL students and prompted Superintendent Grace Wright to issue a memo telling administrators that failure to comply could result in "non-renewal of your contract."

A random audit of student files was called in March because of court decisions that require a monitoring of ELL students, said Margaret Garcia Dugan, associate superintendent for academic achievement under the Arizona Department of Education. Each complete file brings in $340.

"We do everything internally, and that's been the problem," said Ben Miranda, a school board member.

Norma Muņoz, another board member, said responsibility lies with the principals.

"If we've learned a lesson (from the audit), they (principals) should be doing this," Muņoz said. "The first time they were all behind. They had to go through every single file and make sure it was up to date. It was bad.
That is their responsibility."

The district listed 4,857 students as ELL in 2003. The district has about 12,000 students.

The Arizona Department of Education directed the district to update the files in order to get an accurate accounting of English language learners.

District employees collected files on students in late February, knocking on doors in south Phoenix and sending notes home with students or pulling parents into the schools for general information.

A student's cumulative file contains a birth certificate, immunization records, school grades and test scores. Files belonging to English language learners determine the children's first language. It also helps educators figure out where an ELL student stands academically or places the student in classes that help them.

These files show how ELL students performed academically and, if they needed help, how the school addressed the situation, Dugan said. Roosevelt is one of 32 school districts audited this year.

"Since Superintendent Tom Horne has been here, program specialists are here and we try to find out what exactly is happening with ELL students," she said.

A number of Roosevelt's 20 campuses failed to complete information. Pastor School, for example, has 907 students, and of that number, only 150 folders were complete as of January.

Pastor staff improved the numbers two weeks later, reporting 430 folders complete.

District Governing Board leaders, during a March 1 board retreat, discussed new ways of evaluating Roosevelt's principals, launched a debate about ways to maintain updated records in the future.

One board member believed principals should be in charge of updating student records, while others believed an outside consultant should be given that duty.

Miranda called the process time-consuming for educators and said he believes the district should hire a consultant to gather the information.