Test change risky for 150 AZ schools  
August 27, 2005


 By Daniel Scarpinato

U.S. may count AIMS scores of English learners



A possible federal crackdown on AIMS scores would put 150 schools statewide at risk of government intervention and eventual loss of their principals.
The U.S. Department of Education is considering requiring Arizona to report the standardized test scores of students who aren't proficient in English, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said Friday.
The move, which Horne opposes, would put schools in jeopardy of failing federal requirements, called Adequate Yearly Progress, which are part of the No Child Left Behind Act.
Right now, English learners are not calculated with the rest of the AIMS scores. If a school fails to make progress, the government eventually can step in and replace the principal and teachers.
"If they are just beginning to learn the language, there is no way to make a student sufficiently proficient in English to pass an exam in English," Horne said.
Last year, 302 Arizona schools failed the standards, according to the state Department of Education. Forty-five were in Southern Arizona.
But officials in Tucson's largest school district, where 13 schools failed to meet the federal standards in the evaluations released last year, are not raising concerns about the possible policy change, nor taking a position on whether the policy should change. Tucson Unified School District has 7,500 students labeled English learners.
"The effect on the kids will actually not be great at all," said Steve Holmes, director of Language Acquisition for the district, in a conference call with TUSD Deputy Superintendent Patti Lopez. "We haven't seen a real correlation between English language learners and Adequate Yearly Progress."
Still, scores for English learners were drastically lower last year than those of English speakers. For example, in Pima County last year, 75 percent of high school sophomore English speakers who took the AIMS reading test passed. Only 17 percent of English learners in that same category passed the test.
For those scores to have an impact on school labels, the school must have a high enough concentration of English learners to change the overall progress.
Leaving English learners out of reported numbers was an important step in Arizona's move to sign on to the federal No Child Left Behind Act in 2003, Horne said.
"We had a verbal agreement," he said. Officials in the middle level of the federal agency started talking about backing out of it, he said, but "I know some of the people in the department, and I believe they will follow their word."
Arizona's situation is unusual because many states allow English learners to take standardized tests in their native tongues. But a law approved by Arizona voters in 2000 requires that all students take tests in English only.
Horne said because of that law, which cannot be overturned by the Legislature, it's necessary to leave out the scores of English learners.
Officials are expected to release the latest Adequate Yearly Progress results next month. The state has a separate accountability program for schools, called Arizona Learns.
● Contact reporter Daniel Scarpinato at 573-4195 or at dscarpinato@azstarnet.com.